Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis has repeatedly said that the project framework agreements for the two Daniells Bridge Road projects on the agenda for approval Tuesday night are simply “place holders.”
An analysis of the legal agreements the county is being asked to sign with the Georgia Department of Transportation and a review of planning procedures for regional road projects indicate that the documents are much more than Davis has suggested.
The projects include $4.4 million in federal funding.
The agreements also commit the county to a time line for the projects that can only be altered if GDOT agrees.
If approved, the project framework agreements would require the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS), the federally-mandated regional transportation coordinating body, to modify documents it produced last September to bring them in line with the agreements.
Davis has surfaced as the biggest supporter of the project framework agreements, which cover the widening of Daniells Bridge Road from Chestnut Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road and the construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road to fly over SR Loop 10.
Davis, as chair, will get to vote on Tuesday only in the case of a tie by the four other commissioners.
Those commissioners have not been able to reach an agreement among themselves in the past and have postponed a final decision until Tuesday night.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
As in the past, the project framework agreements are scheduled to be discussed near the very end of the meeting–a fact that has frustrated citizens who turned out in January and again in February to advocate for and against the two projects.
The Board of Commissioners has kept the item on the agenda–at Davis’ insistence--even though its citizen advisory committee on land use and transportation issues has not completed its review of the projects and the county’s Public Work Director has said both project framework agreements are flawed.
PFA Time Lines
The project framework agreements surfaced in July, just after MACORTS had completed a draft of its 2015-2018 Transportation Improvement Program. That document was modified on Sept. 10, 2014.
The widening of Daniells Bridge Road in the MACORTS final TIP document is a $9.1 million project with preliminary engineering to begin in the current fiscal year but with actual construction labeled “long range.”
The project framework agreement lists the widening of Daniells Bridge Road as a $3.8 million project with preliminary engineering to be completed by May of 2015 and construction funds to be authorized in January of 2018.
The Daniells Bridge Road extension in the MACORTS document of September is a $4.8 million project with preliminary engineering in 2017 and construction labeled as “long range.”
The project framework agreement designates the Daniells Bridge Road extension as a $4.9 million project with engineering to be completed in May of 2015 and construction funding to be authorized in August of 2018.
The county is being asked to sign a 24-page agreement with the state that spells out clearly the conditions under which the time line can be modified and the county’s financial obligations.
The county can ask for modifications to the time line, but those changes can be made only if the state agreed.
If any federal money is spent after the agreements are signed, the county would have to reimburse the state for the funds. The state is allocated federal funds for highway projects and can use those funds under conditions set by the federal government.
One of those conditions is that the projects, if they are in an urbanized area, be reviewed by a regional planning body. MACORTS is the designated body for the urbanized part of Oconee County.
Sherry McDuffie, planner with MACORTS, told me last week that MACORTS had never seen the project framework agreements sent to the county in July. I sent them to her after we talked.
She said that if the county signs those project framework agreements the MACORTS documents will have to be modified before federal funds can be used.
McDuffie told me that the projects will not move forward if the project framework agreements aren’t signed by the county
The projects, however, will not die. Rather, the time line in the MACORTS documents will remain in place.
McDuffie said it is possible that the time line in the MACORTS documents calling for preliminary engineering on Daniells Bridge Road widening in this fiscal year “triggered” the issuance of the agreements by GDOT for both projects.
She did not have any explanation for why the time lines for both projects were modified in the project framework agreements.
Origins A Mystery
Georgia Department of Transportation Engineer Brandon Kirby told me last summer that the decision to send three project framework agreements to Oconee County for approval was the result of a “group effort.”
But he would not say who was in the group that decided it was time to move forward with projects.
Dylan Curtis, project manager at GDOT, told me at that same time that she believed the project framework agreements had been approved by Oconee County officials and that members of the state Transportation Board were involved.
Although Chairman Davis put the project framework agreements on the agenda for the Board of Commissioners to approve in July of 2014 without comment, he subsequently said he was “surprised” by receipt of the documents.
Jamie Boswell, who owns the Boswell Group, a local commercial real estate firm, is the local representative to the state Transportation Board.
He told me last month that he did not “remember” being involved in the decision to issue the project framework agreements.
Boswell did acknowledge that he has clients who will benefit from construction of the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover.
I shot the video above on Feb. 16 with a camera mounted on the dashboard of my car.
In an earlier version of this story, I wrote that the project framework agreements require the county to pay $114,011 for project engineering costs as soon as the agreements are signed.
Chairman Davis disputed that at the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 7.
The project framework agreement does state that the local government shall pay "all or certain portions of the project costs for the preconstruction engineering design activities," which are $114,011.
Yet it references Attachment A, which stipulates that in these two cases those costs will be covered by state and federal funds.
During discussions at the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, Beshara had said the county is usually asked to pay these costs.
I apologize for the error.