Saturday, January 24, 2015

Daniells Bridge Road Widening And Flyover On Oconee County Board of Commissioners Agenda Again

Call For Decision On Contract

The project framework agreements with the state for the widening of Daniells Bridge Road and for construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road and flyover of SR Loop 10 are back on the agenda of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners for approval on Tuesday night.

The two projects would create a new traffic artery to move traffic from Watkinsville to the Epps Bridge Road commercial corridor and then Athens that would parallel Mars Hill Road, now being rebuilt at a cost of $30 million.

Ross Property

The alternate route from Watkinsville to Epps Bridge Parkway is being proposed as a way of alleviating traffic on SR 316, but county officials also admit that the Daniells Brige Road extension is being promoted by developers.

Boswell Properties, owned by Jamie Boswell, the area representative to the Georgia Transportation Board, has listings for properties all along the route of what would become a new circular commercial roadway for the county.

Agenda Released Friday

County Clerk Jane Greathouse released the agenda for the Tuesday meeting at 3:06 p.m. yesterday, following two days of meetings of the Board of Commissioners during which they discussed a long list of county projects.

Finance Director Wes Geddings told the commissioners they should consider a property tax increase because of upcoming expenses, including for the repair of existing roadways, for a new sewage plant, for payment of the debt on the Caterpillar project, and for a new judicial facility.

Geddings estimated that the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road, which the Board already has approved, a new Parkway Boulevard behind Kohl’s, now in the design stage, and the two Daniells Bridge Road projects would cost the county $10 million.

OCO: Geddings On Daniells Bridge Road from Lee Becker on Vimeo

That was the only mention during the two days of discussions of the Daniells Bridge Road projects, however, and there has been no public discussion of these two projects since the BOC refused to approve the two project framework agreements for them at the end of November.

It did approve the Jimmy Daniell Road widening at that time.

Other Agenda Items

The agenda on Tuesday includes a number of items, including a report from the auditors, a six-month financial update, and discussion of budget procedures as the county prepares for the next fiscal year.

In addition, the BOC will review five applications to sell liquor by the drink in county restaurants, including in Cheddar’s Casual CafĂ©, which is scheduled to open officially in Epps Bridge Centre on Feb. 2.

The BOC is being asked to approve tentatively the project framework agreements and put them on the consent agenda for the Feb. 3 meeting.

If the commissioners do that, the agreements will not be discussed at the Feb. 3 meeting unless one of the commissioners asks to pull the item off the consent agenda for further discussion.

The meeting on Tuesday starts at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville. The project framework agreements are the 14th item on a 21-item agenda.

Project Details

The details of the two Daniells Bridge Road projects remain unclear, as different versions of each have been discussed.

The project framework agreements, which the county received in July, provide an estimate of the cost of the Daniells Bridge Road widening of $3.9 million, with the county picking up $2.8 million of that.

The estimate on the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover is $4.9 million, with the county picking up only $300,000.

The timeline for the release of funds for purchase of right of way for the Daniells Bridge Road widening is January of 2017, with construction funds to be released a year later.

The timeline for the release of funds for the Daniells Bridge Road extension right of way is July of 2017, with construction funds to be released in August of 2018.

Timeline Altered

The widening of Daniells Bridge Road will provide no relief to residents along it during the widening of Mars Hill Road, which is likely to divert traffic to Daniells Bridge Road.

Construction on the widened Mars Hill Road is to be completed by March 31, 2018, or before construction on either of the Daniells Bridge Road projects will get underway.

Prior to the county’s receipt of the project framework agreements for these two projects in July of last year, the Daniells Bridge Road extension and the Daniells Bridge Road widening were designated as long range, with no specific date set for construction.

On Epps Bridge Parkway

State officials have refused to say why the timelines were changed, but their answers indicated it was likely that both BOC Chairman Melvin Davis and Transportation Board member Boswell were involved.

The Transportation Board has ultimate authority over state funding of major road projects in the county.

Outspoken Supporter

Most of the public reaction so far has been to the proposed Daniells Bridge Road extension, which would connect the existing Daniells Bridge Road to what is now called the Oconee Connector at Home Depot.

Tom Kittle, who lives at 2030 Daniells Bridge Road, said in public meetings that he wants it to go forward so he can move away from the area to a quieter place without road noise. His property now backs up on SR Loop 10.

The existing maps of the project indicate Kittle’s property would be dissected by the extension.

Kittle gave the county’s Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee a petition that he said contained 229 signatures of people who agree that it is time to build the flyover.

Kittle said it was easy to get signatures, particularly at the University of North Georgia campus outside Watkinsville, since the students see Daniells Bridge Road as an easy alternative to Mars Hill Road.

Ross Property

Bill Ross, president of Evergreen Nursery Inc, on Dials Mill Road, who owns 62 acres across from Home Depot that would be made more accessible with the flyover, also has spoken in favor of the project.

Ross donated land between his property and Home Depot for the flyover many years ago, and he said he wants the roadway built as planned or his property given back to him.

Ross’ 62 acres, with the address of 1220 Dowdy Road, are listed by Boswell Properties, as are a number of other parcels nearby.

Most prominent of the other Boswell listings is the land that is now Pinewood Estates South mobile home park. This nearly 25-acre parcel lies between Dowdy Road and Epps Bridge Parkway and also touches Tanglebrook Drive. It is owned by Maxie Price of Lawrenceville.

Connected Properties

Boswell also is listing three other parcels (two of them combined into a single listing) that front on Epps Bridge Parkway and adjoin the 25 acres that now are part of the mobile home park.

Those three parcels sum to a little more than seven acres.

The seven, combined with the 25 acres in the mobile home park, are separated by Dowdy Road from the 62-acre Ross property, bringing to a total of 94 acres that would be made more valuable by completion of the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover.

Across From QuikTrip

In addition, Boswell is listing two other nearby properties. One is 1.8 acres on Epps Bridge Parkway to the east of the IHOP Restaurant.

The other is 8.8 acres at 1083 Parkway Boulevard, next to Kohl’s.

This property, which at present has a sign showing a listing by Nichols Land and Investment Company, would be greatly enhanced if the county were to extend Parkway Boulevard to the Oconee Connector, as is planned.

That’s Not All

Boswell also has listings for all three corners of the Oconee Connector and Daniells Bridge Road/Mars Hill Road intersection, for another property on Daniells Bridge Road near that intersection, and for two properties on Virgil Langford Road and the Oconee Connector.

The property in the northwest corner of the Mars Hill Road and Oconee Connector intersection is owned by Maxie Price as well, and Boswell has met with county officials to discuss a special median cut in the widened Connector to enhance the value of the Price property.

Nichols also has listings for two properties on Daniells Bridge Road between the proposed flyover and the Oconee Connector and for one property at the Connector and Virgil Langford Road.

So the flyover, which would complete the commercial loop, would enhance a large number of properties listed by Nichols and by Boswell.

In addition, Boswell has a nearly 17-acre tract on New Jimmie Daniel Road (the spelling used in Athens-Clarke County) that will be enhanced by the already approved widening of Jimmy Daniell Road in Oconee County.

Land Use Committee

At its Aug. 5 meeting last year, the BOC refused to approve the state project framework agreements despite Davis’ request that they do so, sending them instead to the county Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee.

That Committee voted 8-1 on Nov. 14 to recommend to the BOC that it approve all three agreements, based largely on the argument that the county would lose state money if it did not go forward with the agreements.

Abe Abouhamdan, owner of ABE Consulting, a local engineering company, chairs that Committee, and he encouraged the Committee to approve the agreements.

Abouhamdan did the design work for the county for the widening of Daniells Bridge Road from the Connector to Founder’s Boulevard and is now doing design work for Parkway Boulevard.

Single No Vote

The dissenting vote was cast by Bob Isaac, who lives in Welbrook Farms subdivision, off Daniells Bridge Road. Isaac has been the most outspoken opponent of the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover.

Isaac is a former dean of the College of Agriculture and Environment Sciences at the University of Georgia who had responsibility for the College’s extension services.

BOC Chairman Davis worked under Isaac as an extension agent before Davis’ retirement and entry into county government in 2000.

Another member of the Land Use Committee, James Morris, also was an extension agent under Isaac.

Morris voted in favor of both the Daniells Bridge Road extension and of the Daniells Bridge Road widening, even though he also lives in Welbrook Farms and his lot backs up onto Daniells Bridge Road.

Other Opponents

Opponents have not been well organized.

Rich Waller, who lives in Birchmore Hills subdivison opposite Welbrook Farms subdivision on Daniells Bridge Road, also has spoken against the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover. His home is close to where the extension would connect to Daniells Bridge Road.

Waller is the chairman of the county’s Industrial Development Authority. In addition, his insurance agency handles the employee health policy for the county.

Several other Welbrook Farms residents also have spoken out.

I live in Welbrook Farms, and I have spoken against the Daniells Bridge Road Extension and flyover, pointing out that the extension would drop four lanes of traffic into the sharp curve on Daniells Bridge Road as it skirts the entrance ramp from SR 316 to SR Loop 10.

None of the proposed plans for the extension have straightened or changed that section of road.

Long History

The Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover has a long history, going back at least into the 1990s.

At that time, the Oconee Connector did not exist, and Daniells Bridge Road and a spur of Mars Hill Road connected to SR 316 opposite what is now a stub of Jennings Mill Road.

That area of Daniells Bridge Road is now occupied by office buildings.

Most of the land on the remainder of Daniells Bridge Road to Hog Mountain Road has been developed into subdivisions since the extension and flyover were first proposed.

The construction of the Oconee Connector extension across SR 316 to open up the land that is now developed as Epps Bridge Centre has made the Connector intersection with SR 316 the major bottleneck for traffic in the area.

Luke And Another Flyover

Commissioner Jim Luke, who lives in Jennings Mill, told the county’s two representatives to the Georgia House of Representatives last month that the widening of Mars Hill Road will not solve that problem.

What is needed, Luke said, is an upgrade of that intersection to multi-level. He said that the county cannot do that without the leadership and funding of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Problems with the Connector intersection with SR 316 are frequent topics of conversation at the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee as well.

Rep. Regina Quick told Luke that the state has no concrete plans to deal with the problem in the near future.

Traffic Counts

Emil Beshara, director of the county’s Public Works Department, has told the Land Use Committee that the traffic counts on Daniells Bridge Road at this point do not indicate that any changes to the road will be required in the near future.

Even if the road were to be widened, the bridge over Barber Creek cannot handle a third lane, meaning that, without a major investment, the road cannot be three lanes at all points.

Daniells Bridge Road ends at Hog Mountain Road, which also is only two lanes wide.

Traffic From Daniells Bridge Road flows onto Government Station Road, which runs from Hog Mountain Road to Experiment Station Road. Government Station Road also is only a two-lane road.

Bishop Parkway

At present Government Station Road has a complex intersection with Experiment Station Road, but that intersection will be improved when Experiment Station Road is widened. Right of way acquisition is underway for that project.

Experiment Station Road and Bishop Parkway will be realigned to meet.

Bishop Parkway runs to the campus of the University of North Georgia.

At the planning meetings on Thursday and Friday, the BOC also discussed the possibility of extending Bishop Parkway as well to provide students with a better connection to U.S. 441.

No cost estimates were given for that roadway project.


Jonathan Wallace said...

Can you provide clarity whether the plan is to move Experiment Station Rd, Bishop Parkway, or both?

"Experiment Station Road and Bishop Parkway will be realigned to meet."

The above quote leads me to believe that both would be moved. If so, are there plans for how they would be changed?

Lee Becker said...

Thank you for the question. While the designs have not yet been presented in public, and right of way acquisition is still underway, Public Works Director Beshara has indicated that Government Station Road will be moved drastically in the direction of Butler's Crossing, taking out the existing farm house across from Bishop Parkway. It is possible there will be some slight adjustment to Bishop Parkway, but he has not mentioned that in his presentations.


Xardox said...

Ethically speaking,
Mr. Boswell should either make his fortune other than selling property where he has political influence, or resign from said lucky position.x

Anonymous said...

Should a citizen wish to file an ethics complaint concerning Mr. Boswell,s activities, where would that complaint be filed?

Lee Becker said...

The Bylaws of the State Transportation Board spell out how complaints against Board members are addressed. See:

Members of the Board are appointed by the state legislative delegation for this district. Oconee County is represented by Sen. Bill Cowsert, Rep. Regina Quick, and Rep. Chuck Williams.