The Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS) Policy Committee on Wednesday morning is scheduled to formally add the four-laning of U.S. 441 from Watkinsville to the Apalachee River to the FY 2015– 2018 Transportation Improvement Program.
The action is a necessary step for the reactivation of the project, which includes a bypass of the city of Bishop.
The route of the bypass has not been decided, but Emil Beshara, Oconee County Public Works director, told the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee on June 24 that a route east of the city has been selected as one that will be used as a basis for initial study.
That route, identified as an option in earlier study of possible routes, goes through one farm on which two conservation easements are held as part of the county’s farmland protection program and a third designated for protection via the farmland program.
Beshara said after the June 24 meeting “that the route is not set in stone.” He added that “They needed a starting point, and they chose one particular alignment to use as a basis.”
At that June 24 meeting, the Technical Coordination Committee approved the modification of the transportation Improvement Plan and sent it to the Policy Committee for action on Wednesday.
The Policy Committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department auditorium, 120 W. Dougherty Street in Athens-Clarke County, the venue of the technical committee meeting as well.
In the brief video below, Beshara responded to a question on the route of the bypass. (I could not attend the meeting, and Russ Page recorded it for me.)
Beshara was joined at the meeting by Oconee County representatives Wayne Provost, director of long-range planning, and B.R. White, head of the Oconee County Planning Department.
By placing the U.S. 441 project in the Transportation Improvement Plan, the MACORTS committees will be bringing the dormant project back to life.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has promised to provide $1 million for preliminary engineering in the current fiscal year for the roadway. Right of way acquisition and construction would remain designated as long range.
The GDOT Office of Planning in Atlanta sent Sherry McDuffie, MACORTS transportation planner, an email message on Jan. 12 of this year asking MACORTS to amend the existing Transportation Improvement Program to include the U.S. 441 widening and Bishop bypass.
The MACORTS action is required because $800,000 of the preliminary engineering funding will come from the federal government. The remainder will come from the state. The county is not obligated to provide any of the preliminary engineering funds.
MACORTS is one of 16 federally-mandated metropolitan planning organizations in Georgia. All federal transportation funds for the urbanized area made up of all of Athens-Clarke County, the northern half of Oconee County, and the southernmost part of Madison County must pass through MACORTS.
Routes Under Consideration
GDOT picked one of the seven or eight previously developed alignments to use as a basis for the revived project, according to Beshara.
“This general alignment may hold, or it may be drastically changed,” Beshara wrote in an email he sent me on June 26.
“There are many identified ‘environmental’ issues along all of the previously considered alignments,” Beshara said. “These include historic properties and archeological sites as well as surface water features.”
|U.S. 441 Behind Sign Downtown Bishop|
“Because it appears that no matter where they go they will affect some of these targets,” Beshara wrote, “they are trying to develop a project that will minimize impact to such properties while providing a buildable road configuration.”
Beshara scanned and sent me the preliminary plans for the project.
I uploaded these to box.net and have linked them below,.
Sheet 1 starts at the Morgan County line.
Sheet 2 also is south of Bishop.
Sheet 3 is of Bishop itself and shows the bypass route being used as a starting point.
Mars Hill Road
Beshara also told the Technical Committee on June 24 that the widening of Mars Hill Road “is proceeding well,” but that right of way acquisition for phase two of the project is behind schedule.
That second part of the project involves widening of Experiment Station Road from Hog Mountain Road to the U.S. 441 bypass of Watkinsville.
The county will not meet the July 18 deadline for right of way acquisition "by many months,” Beshara said.
The date for letting of the construction has been moved from December of 2015 to June of 2016, according to Beshara, but he said it is possible that right of way will be completed soon enough to move the letting date to an earlier date.