The Georgia Department of Transportation has cleared 17 of the 26 transportation projects Oconee County put forward for possible funding in the sales tax referendum expected to be before voters in August of 2012.
All of the major projects were approved, including the widening of U.S. 441 at $175 million, the widening of Mars Hill Road at $66.6 million and three interchange improvements on SR 316 for $85 million.
The GDOT approval was the first step in the winnowing down of the list of projects from the county that might be included on the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.
A five-person executive committee, which includes Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, is expected soon to start reviewing the lists of projects from the 12 counties that make up the Northeast Georgia transportation district.
That executive committee is scheduled to deliver its recommended list to the full 24-member committee by August 30.
The 24-member committee is made up of two persons from each of the 12 counties in the Northeast Georgia transportation district.
The 12 counties are Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton.
The referendum, if approved, will add 1 percent to the cost of most items purchased in the district, with the bulk of the revenue going to regional projects selected from the lists submitted by the counties.
The tax, if approved by voters, will run for 10 years.
Oconee County submitted its list of projects on March 30, and that list included items proposed by Bishop, Bogart and Watkinsville.
Total cost for the 26 projects was $370 million.
Bishop’s single project was the widening of U.S. 441.
Bogart submitted two projects, improvements to the Burson Avenue and Atlanta Highway intersection and the widening of Osceola Avenue. Neither of these was approved by GDOT.
All three of Watkinsville’s projects, the Simonton Bridge Road Extension, sidewalks for Simonton Bridge Road, and sidewalks for Harden Hill Road, were approved.
The county had one of its major projects, the construction of an interchange on U.S. 441 for Gainesville State College, pulled from the list by the state.
It also lost six smaller projects involving improvements to Hodges Mill Road, Colham Ferry Road, Clotfelter Road, Astondale Road, Bob Godfrey Road and Salem Road.
Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told me today that the state had reserved the right to review the submitted projects and judge them on a number of criteria, including whether they were truly regional in nature.
Beshara said he has not yet been told why the rejected projects were taken from the list by the state.
The three interchange improvements on SR 316, combined with similar projects in Barrow County, would greatly change the nature of that road. Each of the upgrades would be multiple grade, meaning traffic would cross over and under at the intersection.
The three exchanges proposed for upgrade by Oconee County would be at the Oconee Connector, at Jimmy Daniell Road and at a new road between McNutt Creek and Pete Dickens roads.
This last roadway would serve the proposed Gateway Business Park and be called Bogart Parkway.
Beshara said he expects that other roadways in Oconee County now intersecting with SR 316 would be converted to culs-de-sac and the actual intersections eliminated.