The Georgia Department of Transportation has told Oconee County officials it expects to have money to spend on state highway improvements in the region and has asked the county to submit projects for possible funding.
Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told the Citizens Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning of the state request at the Committee’s April 16 meeting and asked the members to react to two projects he wants to submit.
Beshara said he thought GDOT would be interested in creating a signal on the westbound exit of SR 316 to U.S. 78 and in paving an extra lane of Experiment Station Road between Bishop Farms Parkway and the on ramp to U.S. 441 southbound.
Beshara also invited the Committee members to make proposals of their own.
As of the end of the day today, Beshara told me, he had not yet finalized the list. He said that he expected to do so shortly.
Email to Davis and Beshara
Robby Oliver, GDOT District One state aid coordinator, sent Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis and Beshara an email message on Feb. 15 informing them of the possibility of funding “to correct/improve issues along our State Route system.”
Oliver said he was asking “some of the larger local governments within our District to identify and submit locations that you think would be candidates for this project.” District One is made up of 21 counties in northeast Georgia.
Beshara, who forwarded Oliver’s email message to me, told the Land Use Committee that he didn’t know how much money was available or the likelihood that Oconee County projects would be included.
Two Proposals Justified
Beshara said that the SR 316 exit to U.S. 78 has a “fairly dramatic wait time” at rush hour, and he said he believes that will make the project attractive to GDOT.
He said he had tried to get the state to do the widening of Experiment Station Road four years ago because of the congestion as students leave classes at the University of North Georgia Watkinsville campus.
“I think now, because they have come into this funding that is available, they will bite on that one as well,” Beshara said.
Several Land Use Committee members suggested improvements to Hog Mountain Road as additional projects, but Beshara said he had pitched those to GDOT before without success. He did said he was willing to try again.
Bridge Over Apalachee
GDOT also is spending $2.7 million to build a new westbound lane bridge on U.S. 78 over the Apalachee River as the highway leaves Oconee County and enters Walton County.
Beshara said he was told that the project should be completed in about a year.
He also said he had heard that the state plans to leave in place the old concrete arch bridge now used to carry the westbound traffic across the river.
“It is a unique bridge and I don’t think GDOT will demo(lish) it,” Beshara said.
Daniells Bridge Road Widening
GDOT also is performing a corridor study of Daniells Bridge Road, according to Beshara,
The county considers Daniells Bridge Road to be the “preferred alternate” to Mars Hill Road during the widening of that roadway from SR 316 to Hog Mountain Road, he said.
“I am betting GDOT is looking to see if the project is necessary based on current/predicted traffic volumes,” Beshara said in an email message he sent me on March 14.
I had asked Beshara for an explanation for the traffic counters I had noticed along Daniells Bridge Road.
Mars Hill Road Widening
GDOT is scheduled to award a construction contract for the Mars Hill Road widening in September.
That project had been on the list of projects submitted to voters as part of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax initiative, which Oconee County voters and others in the region turned down in July of last year.
The projects that may be funded by the new initiative referenced in GDOT’s Feb. 15 email to Davis and Beshara will not be affected by the T-SPLOST defeat, Beshara said.
These projects will be GDOT funded and not require any county contribution, he said.
Under the law, counties in the regions that turned down T-SPLOST are to be penalized for not supporting the tax by paying a higher percentage of transportation projects jointly funded with the state.