Only two months after the Oconee County Board of Commissioners turned down two Daniells Bridge Road projects after a lengthy discussion, Commission Chairman Melvin Davis earlier this month brought them brought up again for consideration.
Davis made only oblique reference to the two roadway projects in his comments, but Commissioner John Daniell, whose negative vote was key on April 7 when the Board rejected Davis' push for the roadwork, understood and responded.
Davis told the Board on June 2, before it adopted the county’s Fiscal Year budget, that he hoped the county would do a “transportation study” of the SR 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway corridor in the coming year.
Daniell agreed, saying the study would help the county determine if the Daniells Bridge Road flyover or a flyover of SR 316 at the Oconee Connector “would be the best relief for traffic” in the area.
Davis responded enthusiastically, saying he thought the state might contribute funding for the study.
No Action Taken
Davis said he wasn't asking the Board to revise the proposed budget to include funding for the study of traffic he wants done, and the item was not included in the $39.7 million budget the Board approved at that June 2 meeting.
Davis did say he wanted the Board to consider “in the coming year” doing the study, and Daniell, who had said he was willing to consider the projects again in the future, said “there may be some options too for state participation in some of that planning.”
That brought a smile to Davis' face, who said "I think there is an option there.”
The exchange is in the video below. Davis also suggested the Board consider changes in the classification of county jobs, but he also did not ask for funding for that initiative.
Project Framework Agreements
On April 7, the Board of Commissioners, in a 3-1 vote, turned down two project framework agreements with the Georgia Department of Transportation for the widening of Daniells Bridge Road and for construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road that included a flyover of SR Loop 10.
Davis had been a strong proponent of both projects, but he was able to persuade only Commissioner Bubber Wilkes to go along with him.
The Georgia Department of Transportation had sent the contracts to the county in July of 2014 for approval, though the projects were not scheduled for action in the timelines of the regional transportation policy body, Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS).
One of the objections of the three Board members who opposed the projects was insufficient information on project costs.
Davis said in the video above that those numbers had been “pulled out of the air,” though he never acknowledged that as a problem when the contracts were under review.
Davis sent Dylan Curtis at GDOT an email message on the afternoon of April 8--one day after the Board vote--saying that “Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted not to sign” the project framework agreements for the widening of Daniells Bridge Road and for the extension and flyover of SR Loop 10.
“Thanks for your patience,” Davis wrote to Curtis, a project manager at GDOT, working out of its Atlanta office.
Davis had sent Curtis and other GDOT officials a number of email messages regarding the two project framework agreements, going back to the first of the year, and, according to those email messages, also had had a number of conversations with those same individuals.
I obtained those email message via an open records request I filed with the county covering the period from the first of the year until April 30.
Email Trail Starts
Curtis had sent Davis an email message on Feb. 12 indicating that he had spoken with Davis that day about the two project framework agreements for the Daniells Bridge Road projects.
Curtis noted that Davis had said he expected a vote of the Board on March 7.
Davis wrote back on Feb. 13, saying “Thanks so much for the conversation regarding the PFA’s.”
He said the Board would address the contracts on April 7, not March 7.
Brandon Kirby, a GDOT Engineer, sent Davis a message on Feb. 18 indicating that GDOT would not participate in a work session Davis had scheduled for the Board of Commissioners on Feb. 23 to discuss the two project framework agreements.
Kirby forwarded to Davis an email from Kyle Mote, GDOT Branch Chief in Atlanta, indicating that Mote had talked to Sherry McDuffie, a planner with MACORTS, about the meeting before deciding that GDOT should not attend.
Mote told Kirby that, “per your request,” he had spoken with McDuffie about “issues that Chairman Davis has brought to your and to her attention.”
McDuffie did attend the Feb. 23 meeting.
Day Before Vote
Davis sent an email to Kirby at GDOT on the evening of April 6 asking him “to give me a call in the morning.”
He also sent an email to Brent Cook, GDOT district engineer, that same evening, again asking him to call in the morning “on my cell phone if possible.”
Davis forwarded to Kirby and Cook a message I had sent on April 5 to the four voting commissioners explaining my concerns about the project framework agreements and asking them to turn them down at the meeting in April 7.
Commissioner Wilkes had forwarded my email to Davis.
Davis reminded Kirby that the issue would be on the agenda on April 7.
MACORTS is the federally mandated regional transportation planning body for the urbanized parts of the Athens area, including much of the northern part of Oconee County.
In principle, MACORTS plans for and determines transportation priorities.
In fact, MACORTS often responds to the decisions made by GDOT.
Davis sits on the Policy Committee of MACORTS, but, as the correspondence indicates, he is in direct correspondence with GDOT officials as well.
Land Use Committee
Oconee County has a Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning, but that group was involved in the discussion about the two Daniells Bridge Road projects only after the county received the PFAs and the commissioners forced Davis to seek input from the group.
The citizen group actually had voted on March 10 that the Board not move forward with the projects as drafted in the PFAs, but the commissioners, at Davis’ urging, decided to vote on April 7 anyway.
At its meeting on June 9, several members of the Land Use Committee expressed frustration with the Committee’s communication with the commissioners and with the role the Committee is playing in transportation planning.
The Committee voted to ask the Board to allow it to stop meeting monthly in favor of every-other-month meetings and to reduce its membership, which now stands at 12.
Stuart Cofer and Jim Butler said they would not seek reappointment to the Committee.
"Davis responded enthusiastically, saying he thought the state might contribute funding for the study."
Translation: Melvin will call Jamie Boswell and the other GDOT staff members he seems to speak to so often.
"Davis had been a strong proponent of both projects, but he was able to persuade only Commissioner Bubber Wilkes to go along with him."
When does Bubber (yes, his name is actually Bubber) not vote with Melvin? Has Bubber ever, ever not agreed with Melvin...talk about a rubber stamp?!
"Daniell agreed, saying the study would help the county determine if the Daniells Bridge Road flyover or a flyover of SR 316 at the Oconee Connector “would be the best relief for traffic” in the area.
Davis responded enthusiastically, saying he thought the state might contribute funding for the study."
This is the most troubling concern: It's no secret that Daniell
would not mind being to be the next commission chair after Melvin. I commend Daniell for voting against Melvin the first time. But what's happened since then? What conversations have Melvin and Daniell had since then to possibly change his mind about the county spending millions on projects that benefit a handful of property owners represented by Jamie Boswell and out of town developer Frank Bishop?
We need commissioners who debate and ask questions. Right now, Bubber goes along with Melvin without fail. I'm hoping Daniell, Saxon and Luke continue to press Melvin, Benko, Geddings, etc. Just look at the Utilities Dept. disaster. The staff and commissioners knew for months about raw sewage released into our watershed, and didn't notify the EPD...or the public!
The people have spoken, repeatedly, but the commission and especially the chair apparently don't like what they heard. So let me say it again: WE DO NOT WANT OR NEED TRAFFIC CHANGES TO DANIELLS BRIDGE ROAD.
For the record, I do not live on/near Daniells Bridge Rd. I just don't want to pay for unnecessary road work when there are many better ways to spend county resources.
I guess there is more happening in Oconee north of Butler's Crossing. Perhaps if the rest of the county stays quiet nothing will happen to it and folks can rest a little easier.
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