After more than two hour of presentations by staff, of discussions, and of comments by citizens, the vast majority of them asking that the two project framework agreements for road work on Daniells Bridge Road be rejected, Oconee County commissioners last night delayed making a decision yet again.
Instead the commissioners agreed to revisit in 60 days the question of whether to widen Daniells Bridge Road in some fashion and to build an extension of Daniells Bridge Road that would fly over SR Loop 10 to connect with the stub of the Oconee Connector that ends at Home Depot.
In the interim, the commissioners said, they would do more homework on the two projects and then reconsider the agreements the state sent the county last July moving the time lines for the projects forward for immediate design work and construction funding as early as 2018.
Citizens crammed the Commission Chambers, spilling out into the hallway as they did a week ago when the commissioners also were unable to reach agreement on the projects.
A total of 22 spoke, with 18 opposing the projects and two persons speaking in favor of them. The week before, 10 people had spoken against the projects, and three had spoken in favor.
Other Commission Action
Even though it was clear that most of the people at the meeting were there to speak for or against the two Daniells Bridge Road projects, the Commission held the item until the end of the agenda, just ahead of the consent items the commissioners had approved tentatively last week and adjournment.
In that early part of the three-hours-and-48-minute-long meeting, the Board of Commissioners approved unanimously the rezone of just more than 14 acres at the corner of Virgil Langford Road and Jennings Mill Road for the third phase of Three Sixteen Professional Quarter.
They also approved unanimously a rezone request by the Homeowners Association of Coldwater Creek III to allow for the construction of additional houses in the partially completed subdivision on at-grade slabs.
And the commissioners agreed, in a split vote with Chairman Melvin Davis breaking the tie, to refund $16,000 to Sosbee Ventures, 1390 Beverly Drive, off Daniells Bridge Road, for connection fees paid for Meadow Springs subdivision off Cliff Dawson Road.
Chairman Davis introduced the Daniells Bridge Road item on the agenda by asking county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko to review once again the nature of the agreements the Georgia Department of Transportation is asking the county to sign.
Davis is a full-time employee of the county, but the four voting commissioners are part-time and have no staff of their own.
Benko said accepting the agreements “does not encumber the Board except for the decision to either support the project or not.” If the Board approved the projects, he said, they could go forward with design work and “come back with more accurate numbers” on costs than had been provided by the state.
Benko did not mention a key provision of the legal contract that the county is being asked to sign and which had been sent to the commissioners.
That document states that the county must “adhere to the detailed project schedule as approved by the DEPARTMENT, attached as Attachment ‘B’ and incorporated herein by reference.”
The “department” is the department of transportation, and Attachment B specifies that design work for the two projects is to begin in 2017, that authorization of right of way funding is in 2017, and that construction funding is in 2018.
Provost On Traffic
Benko then turned the presentation over to Strategic and Long Range Planning Director Wayne Provost, who reviewed the history of the two projects and presented traffic estimates for SR 316.
Provost talked for a little more than 12 minutes before he paused for questions.
Provost used a series of maps, which he handed to the commissioners, but he did not use the overhead projector in the room or any other device to display the maps to the audience. The maps also had not been released to the public in advance.
He told the Board about the phases of construction of SR 316 in the county and explained the decisions that had been made about the grade-separated interchanges at U.S. 78 and at SR Loop 10.
As he stopped for questions, Provost said “there has been a lot of discussion as to whether it is an economic development project or whether it is a transportation project.”
He didn’t answer that question, but he said he wanted the Board to know the history of the project.
OCO: Provost On Flyover from Lee Becker on Vimeo
Long Range Or Not
The Board then spent another 43 minutes asking Provost questions and chatting among themselves about the operation of MACORTS (Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Authority) and other topics.
MACORTS is a required coordinating body for transportation in the urbanized area of the three counties, and it reviews and classifies road projects in the three.
Commission John Daniell was particularly intent on learning where the two Daniells Bridge Road projects were in terms of MACORTS priorities.
No one was willing or able to give the answer.
Now The Public
Chairman Davis next asked for public comment, but he set some restrictions. He said people who spoke last week should not speak until others had spoken. And he asked people not to be repetitious.
During the next 51 minutes, 22 people spoke.
Of those, 18 stated opposition. One asked a question about traffic counts. Another questioned the logic of putting more traffic on Hog Mountain Road. Two spoke in support of the projects.
Tom Kittle, who lives at 2030 Daniells Bridge Road and whose property will be crossed by the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover, spoke in favor of the projects, as he has in the past. He also reminded the commissioners of the 337 people who signed his petition in favor of the project.
“Most of the 337 people are not here tonight,” he said, ‘but they want me to voice their opinion.”
Joseph Mann, 2211 Daniells Bridge Road, which is in the curve at Lynn Drive, also spoke in favor, saying “five or six years from now, it is going to be needed.”
Frustration With Process
Bob Isaac, 1370 Beverly Drive, who had been a frequent critic of both projects, restated his position that the two projects were not needed. He also expressed frustration with the process.
“It seems every time this project comes up, it seems to be short circuited,” he said. “At the last minute, it is put on the agendas. When we get on the agenda it seems to be late in the evening.
“Here it is 10 o’clock, and we’re sitting here discussing this late in the meeting. I don’t know whether the desire is for some that the opposition disappear or what. But I don’t think that’s happening.”
I also spoke in opposition, and I told the commissioners that the issue of the status of the project with MACORTS was clearly stated on the organization’s web site. I also responded to comments the five commissioners had made at the meeting last week, speaking for 13 minutes.
Several people who came to speak had left the meeting by the time comments were allowed.
I checked the MACORTS web site again this morning and reviewed three different documents,
The first was the “Long Range Transportation Plan,” approved on Oct. 8, 2014.
In that document, funding is listed as in 2025 to 2029 for the Daniells Bridge Road widening and 2030 to 2040 for the extension and flyover.
The second report was the “FY 2015 - 2018 Transportation Improvement Program and FY 2019 - 2020 Second Tier of Projects.” This was approved on Sept. 10, 2014.
In that document, the widening construction is listed as “Long Range,” while engineering is in fiscal year 2015. For the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover, engineering is in fiscal year 2017, while construction is listed as “Long Range.”
The final document I looked at was the “FY 2014 - 2017 Transportation Improvement Program FY 2018 - 2019 Second Tier of Projects,” which was approved on Oct. 9, 2013.
It has the same time frame as in the updated document approved on Sept. 10, 2014.
Vote On Widening
After the citizens had spoken, Chairman Davis tried to get a motion from the voting commissioners to approve the two project framework agreements, which he again called simply “placeholders.”
Commissioner Daniell made a motion to take no action on either of the agreements. Commissioner Bubber Wilkes seconded. That motion was withdrawn.
Daniell then made a motion to take no action on the widening, and Wilkes seconded that. That motion produced a tie vote, and Davis broke the tie against it.
Luke then made a motion to approve the widening agreement. That motion died for lack of a second.
Wilkes again made a motion to table the widening for 60 days, and Daniell seconded. That motion passed, with Davis voting to table.
Vote On Flyover
Luke then made a motion to take no action on the flyover, and it was seconded by Commissioner Mark Saxon. Both said they wanted to kill the project and did not want to bring it back in 60 days.
That motion produced a tie, and Davis broke the tie to defeat the motion.
Daniell then made a motion, seconded by Wilkes, that the decision on the flyover be delayed for 60 days.
In this case, Luke switched and voted with Daniell and Wilkes in favor, and Saxon voted against.
The whole process took 11 minutes, and the video of those votes is below. The video of the entire discussion of the Daniells Bridge Road projects is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.
OCO: Vote on Daniells Bridge Road Projects from Lee Becker on Vimeo
Common elected official technique on a controversial project, ordinance, etc.: Delay & defer, make opponents wait until the end of long meetings, "wait them out", and then sneak it quietly in when there's less "heat" and attention.
In Oconee, Melvin Davis, Frank Bishop and Jamie Boswell are alwys going to get what they want in the end.
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