Sunday, August 17, 2014

Oconee County Public Works Director Criticizes State Transportation Project Agreements Now Under Review

At Citizen Meeting

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners should not approve three pending project agreements with the Georgia Department of Transportation without a clearer understanding of project details, the county’s Public Works director told a citizen group last Tuesday night.

The agreements call for one project on Jimmy Daniell Road and two projects on Daniells Bridge Road, but Public Works Director Emil Beshara said the county should not allow GDOT planners “who may or may not have been influenced by other forces, dictate to us what our projects are.”

Beshara identified BOC Chairman Melvin Davis as the driving force behind at least one of those projects–an extension of Daniells Bridge Road with a flyover of SR Loop 10 to link up with a dead-end section of the Oconee Connector behind Home Depot.

Beshara said that building that flyover before making improvements to Daniells Bridge Road would be “exacerbating a problem” the county already has identified.

“If you are going to build the Extension,” he said, “let’s prepare the Daniells Bridge Road corridor to receive the increased traffic flows that that is certainly going to generate.”

Background On GDOT Documents

BOC Chairman Davis provided the four voting Commissioners with project framework agreements for the Jimmy Daniell and Daniells Bridge Road projects just prior to the July 29 BOC agenda-setting meeting.

The documents spell out the funding sources for the projects and project time lines.

Included are the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road from SR 316 to the Atlanta Highway, the widening of Daniells Bridge Road from Mars Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road, and the construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road with a flyover of SR Loop 10.

All three projects are in the current Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS) list of projects, adopted in October of 2013, and in the MACORTS draft of projects, dated June 25, 2014.

The time lines and even funding figures before the BOC are different from what are in the MACORTS documents, which are the official public documents on the three projects.

The BOC has not taken any action of the three agreements, but it is expected to consider them again at its meeting on Aug. 26.

Isaac Request

Beshara’s comments at the Land Use Committee meeting last Tuesday were in response to a request from Bob Isaac, a member of the Land Use Committee and an opponent of the proposed changes to Daniells Bridge Road.

After Beshara had talked for 29 minutes about the widening of Mars Hill Road, Isaac asked him to explain why the two Daniells Bridge Road projects were coming before the Commission for action. A section of Isaac’s request is in the video below.

Provost Response

Before Beshara could respond to Isaac, Wayne Provote, director of Strategic and Long Rang Planning for the county, said he would provide the answer.

Provost said the extension of Daniells Bridge Road to link up with the stub of the Oconee Connector behind Home Depot had been in the planning stage for years and had been supported by “everybody involved in long ranged planning.”

The county’s goal, he said, is to create a loop that will relieve the SR 316 and Loop 10 intersection of local traffic. The video clip below is of Provost’s explanation.

Beshara Response

Beshara said he agreed with Provost that the creation of a loop, including the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover of SR 316, had been “around for a while.”

He said that he had been trying to keep the project designated as “long range unfunded” in MACORTS, but he has run into resistance from the MACORTS Policy Committee, on which Chairman Davis represents the county.

Beshara said the county was being asked, through the project framework agreements from GDOT, to spend between $4 and $5 million on the projects, and the county would have to borrow money for that purpose.

Beshara said the BOC, not GDOT, should be deciding on the priorities of these projects, because transportation projects affect land use, and land use is the responsibility of the county.

Beshara told Isaac that he represents the county on MACORTS and is the primary technical contact for the county with GDOT, but he had “no idea” GDOT was sending the agreements for county action.

Welbrook Farms

Isaac is a resident of Welbrook Farms on Daniells Bridge Road, and he expressed frustration at the meeting on Tuesday night that the two Daniells Bridge Road projects had gone forward without review by the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee.

Isaac has spoken against the Daniells flyover at the Land Use Committee meetings in the past.

Isaac also was one of those who spoke against the widening and the flyover at the BOC meetings of July 29 and Aug. 5. (I also am a resident of Welbrook Farms and spoke against the flyover as proposed at the meeting of July 29.)

Beshara told Isaac that he had proposed a much less expensive version of the Daniells Bridge Road widening that did not involve the construction of three lanes all the way from Chestnut Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road, as is being proposed in the documents awaiting BOC action.

Connector And Traffic

While Provost said the Daniells Bridge Road flyover was being built to eliminate traffic on SR 316, Beshara, in the clip above, acknowledged that roadways have impact on land use.

When the county decided to put the construction of the existing Oconee Connector from SR 316 to Epps Bridge Parkway ahead of the Mars Hill Road widening project more than five years ago, it spoke of the project in the terms used by Provost on Tuesday night.

But a key goal was to open up the area behind Lowe’s and the area that is now the Epps Bridge Centre for commercial development.

Epps Bridge Centre developer Frank Bishop thanked the county for taking that action in a keynote address he gave to the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in January.

The Epps Bridge Centre has been envisioned from the start as a regional center that would attract visitors from Oconee County and surrounding areas, putting more traffic, rather than reducing traffic, on SR 316 and Loop 10.

Abouhamdan Rescue

The meeting on Tuesday night had started at 7 p.m. in the community center at Veterans Park.

Fifth-three minutes into the discussion, Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan interrupted the discussion of the GDOT project framework agreements, saying he needed to stay to his schedule and end the meeting at the end of the hour.

“I think this has been a really interesting topic, and I’m fine discussing with,” he said, “but we are getting close to the end of the agenda time here, and I’d like to move on.”

Beshara and one of the committee members ignored Abouhamdam, and it was another two minutes before Abouhamdam got his wish.

The Committee adjourned at 7:59 p.m.

Full Video

The entire video of the discussion of the three project framework agreements is below.

The video runs for 27 minutes. The clips inserted into the post above were taken from this longer video.


Anonymous said...

WOW! This is earth shattering! Public Works Director Emil Beshara calling out those “who may or may not have been influenced by other forces, dictate to us what our projects are”???!!!!

Those other forces trying to influence the GDOT planners are clearly Melvin Davis (and his ego, the sixth county commissioner) and GDOT Board member/local real estate broker Jamie Boswell, who's business interests clearly benefit from these proposed projects.

Will Davis try to find a way to fire Emil for calling him out? Will the other four commissioners grow backbones and do something about this??? Or will they allow Melvin & his ego to run the county unfettered?

Wow, great work Lee! The utterly clueless Athens Banner-Herald, the Oconee Leader, and the Oconee Enterprise will never cover this. Thank you Lee for all you do!

Anonymous said...

Emil Beshara is right on with this. It is clear that Melvin Davis and Jamie Boswell are manipulating the County for their own financial gain and disregarding what is best for the County.
Jamie Boswell, a realtor with several large listings in the area being discussed, should not even be on the GDOT Planning Board, That's like enlisting a fox to watch the chickens, a definite conflict of interest.
In the meantime, Melvin Davis should be drummed out of office for being a party to these political manipulations. There is something rotten in Denmark.
Kudos to Beshara for having the mangos to stand up for us!
-Racer X

Lee Becker said...

Below is an edited version of an anonymous comment submitted at 9:27 a.m. this morning.

Please see My Standards For Oconee County Observations in the right-hand column of this blog.

Edited Comment:

Melvin is not going to stand for this; someone, anyone, let alone a county employee, calling him out, along with Jamie Boswell. Emil better watch his back. Melvin (and his ego, the sixth commissioner) will be vindictive, and find some way to push Emil out without it being obvious retaliation, avoiding a lawsuit.
This is a story with state-wide implications. Maybe the AJC will pick it up. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant. Thanks Lee Becker! Melvin, you should have run for state rep. Unchecked power corrupts. You’re too big of a fish in a small pond. Thank you for your previous service, but it’s time to move on. This is Oconee County, not Melvin Davis County.