Sunday, September 06, 2015

GDOT Has Decided Not To Fund Widening Of Jimmy Daniell Road Despite Oconee County Approval Of Contract

Problems With Funding Sources

The Georgia Department of Transportation has decided not to fund the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road, nullifying the project framework agreement signed by Oconee County in December of last year.

GDOT took this action because Oconee County never specified where it was going to find the $1.15 million estimated cost to the county for right of way acquisition for the project.

And Athens-Clarke County, which was to be a partner on the widening of the roadway, will not have funding available for its share of the project until 2020.

The roadway runs from SR 316 in Oconee County to Atlanta Highway in Athens-Clarke County.

Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko informed the Board of Commissioners about the GDOT decision in an email message on Aug. 21, but no announcement of the cancellation of the project has been made to the public.

Davis Pushed Project

The widening of Jimmy Daniell Road was one of three roadway projects covered by separate project framework agreements that Kim Coley, district planning and programming engineer for GDOT, sent to the county in July of 2014.

The other two agreements covered changes to Daniells Bridge Road.

Jimmy Daniell Crosses Creek
And Changes Name

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis championed the three projects, but the Board of Commissioners agreed on Nov. 25 of last year to go forward only with the Jimmy Daniell Road agreement after considerable opposition surfaced to the Daniells Bridge Road projects.

The total cost of the Jimmy Daniell Road construction, according to the project framework agreement, was to be $21.7 million, with the federal government picking up the bulk of the costs.

Environmental and concept work were to start immediately, with construction funds to be released on October of 2018.

The project framework agreement provided no details on what the final project would include, and Davis repeatedly said the project framework agreements, including the two for Daniells Bridge Road, were simply "place holders" for the proposed work.

Beshara Warning Of Problem

Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara, in response to an invitation from Davis, told the Board of Commissioners on June 30 of this year that “DOT has asked your present chairman (referring to Davis) for when you guys are going to get a consultant on board” for the Jimmy Daniell Road project.

Beshara’s told the Board that he had learned that GDOT had not sent a project framework agreement to Athens-Clarke County, making it impossible for Oconee County to begin working on the project. The video below details those comments.

OCO: Beshara on Jimmy Daniell PFA from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Beshara also said there were a variety of issues Oconee County needed to address before it spent any money on the project.

Included is a decision about how the county wants the area along the roadway to develop. At present, it is largely residential.

It also wouldn’t make much sense for the county to spend a lot of money on Jimmy Daniell Road without knowing what the state plans to do with the interchange of that roadway with SR 316, Beshara said.

Beshara Report Of Meeting

Beshara told Administrative Officer Benko in an email message on Aug. 20 that he, Beshara, had participated in a meeting that afternoon at the GDOT District Office, which is in Gainesville.

“In summary, GDOT is going to release the funding allocated to this project to make it available for another project within the MPO,” Beshara wrote.

Federal transportation legislation requires, as a condition of Federal aid, that a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) be designated for each urbanized area with a population of more than 50,000.

For the urbanized part of Oconee County, the MPO is called the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study, or MACORTS.

Issues At Meeting

Beshara wrote that the decision by GDOT to reallocate the funding was because Oconee County did not specify “where the funding was coming from” for the county’s contribution and because Athens-Clarke County does not have funding for the project until 2020.

“GDOT was fairly insistent that local governments specify their funding source,” he wrote.

Beshara also said “it is almost certain” that the Federal Highway Administration has “de-allocated” some of the funds “due to project inactivity since 2013.”

Beshara also wrote that “Clarke County questioned how the project was moved from 2020 in the MPO schedule so far forward. The schedule jumped without any formal request by the MPO, and they (Clarke County) were not prepared to fund any phase of the project until the programmed year.”

Beshara said “we will need to do some work through MACORTS to get this back on the 2020 schedule.”

Origins Of PFA

The reason for and timing of the decision by Coley from GDOT to send Davis the three PFAs has been unclear from the start.

Coley told me in early September of last year that she did not initiate but only signed the project framework agreements, which were given to her by the project manager, Dylan Curtis.

Coley did say that the project manager typically would have given the project framework agreements to her for distribution to the local government if money had become available or after “simple discussions between the project manager and local officials that the local officials are ready to start this process.”

Project Manager Curtis told me that my question about the timing of the project framework agreements was “a really good” one.

Not Identify Decision Makers

Curtis told me that she was named project manager only while Coley was preparing the project framework agreements and that she, Curtis, knew relatively little about them.

“I believe it is something that the locals discussed,” she said. She said he also believed that members of the state Transportation Board were involved.

Curtis directed me to GDOT Engineer Brandon Kirby.

Kirby said 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.

GDOT Board

Jamie Boswell, who owns the Boswell Group, a local commercial real estate firm with listings along the three roadways covered by the PFAs, is the local representative to the state Transportation Board.

16.9 Acres For Sale
On New Jimmie Daniel Road

The company is listing 16.9 acres at the intersection of Jennings Mill Parkway and the New Jimmie Daniel Road in Athens-Clarke County.

After Jimmy Daniell Road crosses from Oconee County to Athens-Clarke County at McNutt Creek, the road splits into Jimmy Daniel Road (with one L) and the New Jimmie Daniel Road, both of which run to Atlanta Highway.

The New Jimmie Daniell Road is an improved road with the connection with the widened Jennings Mill Parkway.

Web Listing

The Boswell Group website indicates the 16.9-acre-tract it has listed “can be easily subdivided and has all utilities.”

Back on Oct. 28 of last year, Albert Shelby, state program delivery engineer, sent a letter to BOC Chairman Davis telling him that the project framework agreement for the “Jimmie Daniel Road” project needed to be “signed and approved” by Oconee County by Dec. 1, 2014.

Shelby copied Coley and District One Engineer Brent Cook on the letter.

He also copied Boswell.


Xardox said...

Gee, another assumption with various managers including a confidential "group effort" goes awry.
Maybe property taxes can be lowered by $1.18 million?
Let's all hold our breaths.

Mony Abrol said...

I suggest," We rob Peter To Pay Paul ". as the Mission Statement for Oconee County Mgmt. Peter is poor Tax Payers, & Paul is Landed Gentry...Boswell, Aycock, Keller Boswell pulls the Strings &
Commissioners Dance & Sing.
Mony Abrol

Anonymous said...

Benko tells county coomissioners weeks ago but neither Benko nor the commissioners notify the public?!

“I believe it is something that the locals discussed,” she said. She said he also believed that members of the state Transportation Board were involved.

Jamie Boswell's consistent meedling in GDOT projects that benefit his own business has to stop. He should not be allowed to represent our area on the State Transportation Board when he is clearly benefitting personally by serving on that board.

The saddest part is it's a secreat ballot. Cowardly and unethical for our local state rep's and senators to vote on our State trans. Bd. member by secret ballot. Sad, but par for the course.

Anonymous said...

Boswell does seem to have an insanely large conflict of interest. How has this gone unchecked?