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.
A two-lane divided highway is the WRONG plan for this stretch of road through a residential area. This is a huge waste if taxpayer dollars. I've been speaking out against this for several years to no avail. Now we have THREE years of construction inconvenience to look forward to. It may be enough to run me out of Oconee County.
15 years from now, Oconee will look like Gwinnett, if Melvin and his cronies continue to get their way unfettered with no push bak from the public.
I am concerned for the neighborhoods that have been on Mars Hill Road for close to 40 years- Northwest Woods for example. There are several elderly people who live in that neighborhood who will have to fight trafic to get to the grocery store or to head back towards Epps Bridge Road. The new road is going to be very dangerous- not only for our elderly who might get confused, but the young drivers too. Not looking forward to this new change at all.
Mars Hill needs to be a friendly, landscaped, safer road that transitions from the stimulating hustle of the Oconee Connector to the slower, inviting Watkinsville. Picture wide sidewalks and bike paths well removed from 2 easy-going traffic lanes and a third lane when necessary for turning. A road that feels safe and welcomes all methods of travel will encourage families to buy houses in nearby neighborhoods and visit small businesses. The road's personality should say "Welcome to Watkinsville." "You'll be happy here." and "Come back soon, we'll be missing you."
Mars Hill needs to be a friendly and safe transition from the stimulating bustle of the Oconee Connector to the lovely, small town of Watkinsville. Imagine wide sidewalks with bike paths well separated from 2 easy-going traffic lanes and a third lane when necessary for turning. Picture a landscaped boulevard that encourages people to drive a little slower and bike or walk to local businesses. Home values will increase if families know that in Watkinsville, they can cross the road safely and move around their town on foot, with bikes, or in a car. The personality of Mars Hill Road should say, "Welcome to Watkinsville", "You'll be happy here", and "Come back soon, we'll be missing you."
Three years feels like an incredibly long time to build a three mile road. That's a ton of disrupted commutes. Having said that, this project is entirely necessary from both a development and quality of life standpoint and I hope the results are worth the cost.
It's just a matter of time before Melvin Davis and his bunch propose four-laning Hog Mountain Rd. from 441 to 78. Think getting out of Publix and McDonald's is tough now? Just wait.
Yep, we'll be a Junior Gwinnett County in no time.
We just purchased a house on Brookwood Dr. and we are wondering how this road is going to look upon completion. Are there any pictures or plans we can look over?
The county has some photographs on its web site:
Thanks Lee. I just took a look at all the ariel views and was very sad to see all the U-turns folks will have to maneuver when then need to go left or right out of their driveways and subdivisions. In some cases people will have to cross two lanes immediately upon trying to get out of their streets to get into a U-turn lane which in my opinion is especially dangerous for the elderly. I also think that the photo's are not to scale, and that from what I have witnessed already with the current work done it has taken some very large cuts into a lot of properties along this route. I was particularly surprised to see the two homes at the entry of Brookwood Dr that have been prepped for work. They have about six feet left outside the sides of their homes by the time they are finished. I can't imagine what the traffic sounds will be like for those living so close along the edge of this highway upon it's completion, and I am sure many will be more than upset for the ultimate loss they will be forced to endure in their real estate investments. If someone had disclosed this project to us before we purchased in this area, we would have definitely considered buying somewhere else,
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