The first phase of the Mars Hill Road widening project will take three years to complete, significantly disrupt traffic in the process, cost the county up to $4 million on top of state costs, and increase the volume of water in Barber Creek and its tributaries.
This is what Emil Beshara, director of the Oconee County Public Works Department, told the county’s Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning last month.
|Mars Hill Road At Barber Creek|
The county is wrapping up land acquisition, and construction should start in early July, according to Beshara.
Initial attention will be at the Mars Hill Road bridge over Barber Creek, just south of the Mars Hill Road/Oconee Connector/Daniells Bridge Road intersection.
June Contract Letting
Beshara told the group at its regular meeting on Jan. 14 that he now is expecting a June contract letting for the first phase of the project, which will run from SR 316 to Butler’s Crossing, a distance of about three miles.
He also said he is expecting to get, by that same time, the request from the state to start right of way purchasing for phase two, which will involve Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 Bypass.
Plans call for Experiment Station Road subsequently to be widened all the way to Main Street in Watkinsville.
The new road will be four lanes wide, with medians, and include both bike lanes and sidewalks.
Project Behind Schedule
The project is behind schedule because the county has been slow in acquiring right of way for this first phase.
Last year the Georgia Department of Transportation pushed the contract letting date back five months, with the expectation the contract would be let this month.
Beshara told the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee that the county has not closed on three or four of the more than 130 parcels needed for the project.
He said he is now expected to certify right of way acquisition is complete by March.
Design work also needs to be revised and completed, he said.
Once construction starts, Beshara said, it will take three years to complete the first phase of the project.
Beshara said action will focus initially on the bridge over Barber Creek, just south of SR 316.
The bridge is antiquated and will be replaced, he said.
The general plan for the overall project is to construct two new lanes on one side, leaving the traffic on the existing roadway.
Then traffic will be switched to the new lanes and the old lanes will be rebuilt and replaced.
Beshara said the project is complex because people will need to have access to their driveways and traffic will have to flow throughout the construction.
Comparison With Connector Construction
Beshara said the project is much more complicated than the recently completed Oconee Connector extension, which runs from SR 316, looping back to Epps Bridge Parkway.
The county had few utilities to locate and little traffic to divert in that case, he said.
The state moved that project ahead of the widening of Mars Hill Road in its construction plans at the request of the county.
The Oconee Connector extension was designed to open up land for commercial development, including for the Epps Bridge Centre shopping mall.
Funding Sources Identified
Beshara told the group the county has spent $5.5 million for right of way acquisitions, and the state will reimburse the county for those expenses.
The county does not get reimbursed for other expenses, including fees paid for land acquisition services, utility relocation costs, the expenses for purchase of wetland credits to compensate for damage to streams in the construction, and the costs of project design.
The county has budgeted $4 million for those costs, Beshara said.
Runoff Will Increase
Beshara said that design calls for putting runoff from the highway into pipes, rather than allowing it to run in drainage ditches, as currently is the case.
The pipes will drain directly into Barber Creek and its tributaries.
The roadway is two lanes wider than the current road, not counting the bike lanes and sidewalks, and will have considerably more impervious surface as a result.
The consequence is going to be increased levels of stormwater runoff into Barber Creek and its tributaries, Beshara said.
Construction Costs Unknown
Beshara said the state has budgeted $36 million for construction of the roadway to Butler’s Crossing, but he doubts the actual bid will be that high.
The state had budgeted $26 million for the Oconee Connector extension, and the accepted bid was for $13.5 million.
During discussion of the project in the runup to the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a figure of $26 million was used for the first phase of the Mars Hill Road project.
Voters turned down that transportation sales tax in July of 2012.
Video Of Mars Hill Road Discussion
The Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meets at 7 p.m. monthly in the Community Center at Veterans Park.
The video below from the Jan. 14 meeting runs for 14 minutes and contains Beshara’s initial update on Mars Hill Road and responses he made to questions from Committee members about the project.
Those questions were interspersed with other questions about county road projects. The video has been edited to include only information about Mars Hill Road.