The Technical Coordinating Committee of MACORTS, the regional transportation planning organization, recommended on Wednesday that the widening of U.S. 441 with the bypass of Bishop be removed from its planning documents.
That action follows a decision by the Georgia Department of Transportation to use exclusively state funds, rather than state and federal funds, to finance the project.
The recommendation of the Technical Coordinating Committee now goes to the MACORTS Policy Committee for final action. The Policy Committee is scheduled to meet on Feb. 10.
At that Feb. 10 meeting, the Policy Committee also is scheduled to take action on a recommendation of the Technical Coordinating Committee from Wednesday that MACORTS planning documents be amended to add a multi-grade intersection for SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.
Request For Inclusion
Russ Page, long active in farmland and historic preservation in Oconee County, spoke at the beginning of the Technical Coordinating Committee meeting and asked the group not to remove the U.S. 441 widening and Bishop bypass from MACORTS jurisdiction.
Page told the Committee that at the public hearing MACORTS held in Oconee County on Nov. 30 of last year many people said they wanted MACORTS to continue to be involved in the project and had submitted written requests to that effect.
Page argued that MACORTS’ involvement offered citizens a means to communicate to GDOT about the road project.
“Please stay involved,” Page said. “This involves something local. It involves us, and we would like to be heard.”
GDOT asked MACORTS to remove the U.S. 441 project from MACORTS planning documents. Without federal regulations on such things as cultural and environment impact, the project can move more quickly, GDOT officials have said.
The Committee voted unanimously to recommend removal of the U.S. 441 widening from the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan and the Fiscal Year 2015-2018 Transportation Improvement Program but to communicate to GDOT about the importance of communicating with the public about the project.
Confusion Of Contracts
Emil Beshara, director of Public Works for Oconee County and a member of the Technical Coordinating Committee, said there has been confusion about the assignments GDOT has given its subcontractors.
That confusion surfaced at a meeting of Oconee County citizens in the Community Center of Oconee Veterans Park on Jan. 21.
The confusion results in part from the decision by GDOT to award the contract for engineering design services for the road work to two separate firms.
KCI Technologies Inc., a Maryland firm with offices in Duluth, has the contract to do the design work from north of the Apalachee River to the Watkinsville bypass. This is the part of the road in Oconee County.
Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., an international engineering services firm with offices in Atlanta, has the contract to do the design work for the roadway from north of the bypass of Madison to the Oconee County side of the Oconee River. This part of the road is in Morgan County.
Request For Qualifications
GDOT issued a request for qualifications on Oct. 15, 2014, for seven different road projects, including the “widening of SR 24/US 441 FM N of Apalachee River to Watkinsville Bypass.”
The RFQ, which only asks bidders to identify their qualifications for the proposed work, did not include that portion of the widening in Morgan County.
On Feb. 6, 2015, GDOT identified KCI Technologies as the highest ranking firm among those that applied for the design work for the roadway in Oconee County.
On Nov. 16, 2015, GDOT issued a Task Order to KCI asking the firm to proceed with a traffic analysis of U.S. 441 from north of the Apalachee River to the U.S. 441 bypass of Watkinsville. The cost of the contract is $500,179 and work is to be completed by Nov. 13, 2017.
GDOT issued a similar Task Order to Parsons Brinckerhoff for traffic analysis of U.S. 441 from the Madison bypass to just north of the Apalachee River in Oconee County. That task order is dated Oct. 27, 2014, and is for $1,057,284.
Work is to be completed by June 30, 2016.
Bruce Anderson, project manager for both the Morgan County and Oconee County parts of the project, told me in a series of email messages last week that two additional task orders, one for each of these firms, are being written.
Neither of these task orders will be completed until April or May, Anderson said. His office is in Statesboro.
Future Task Orders
Anderson said in an email message on Jan. 22 that a task order is being written for Parsons Brinckerhoff and that company “will be updating the environmental studies for the project” in both Morgan and Oconee counties.
Cynthia Burney, a GDOT program manager based in Atlanta, told me in a telephone conversation on Wednesday and in an email message on Friday that the second task order for KCI is designed to modify the scope of work spelled out in the original request for proposals.
Burney said the exact language of the task order is still being negotiated, but she wrote in the email message that KCI will be asked to “validate” the original concept report “by determining if the project can stay on the existing alignment.”
If KCI determines that the existing alignment of U.S. 441, which goes through the middle of Bishop, is not appropriate, KCI should “determine a new alignment that meets design criteria while avoiding/minimizing impacts including, but not limited to environmental resources, community resources, potential hazardous waste sites, and underground storage tanks.”
GDOT officials at the meeting on Dec. 22 stressed that the department is starting over in finding a route for a widened U.S. 441 and beginning with analysis of the existing route, and Burney in our telephone conversation said the two task orders with KCI are consistent with that goal.
SR 316 And Connector
The MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee is recommending to the MACORTS Policy Committee that it amend the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan to add $18 million for an upgraded, two-level intersection at SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.
“It is the number one transportation priority, on system, in Oconee County,” Beshara told the Committee.
The funding would be in the Fiscal Years 2020 to 2024 cycle, with $14.4 million coming from the federal government, $1.8 million coming from the state, and $1.8 million being paid by Oconee County.
MACORTS is required to push back planned funding for other projects equal to $18 million, and, on the recommendation of Oconee County Public Works Director Beshara, the Committee took the money from Union Church Road improvements and from Phase III of Mars Hill Road.
That third phase is actually Experiment Station Road running from the U.S. 441 bypass to downtown Watkinsville.
Jimmy Daniell Road
The Technology Committee took no action on reallocation of funds from the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road from SR 316 to the Atlanta Highway.
That project was put on hold when Beshara discovered that GDOT had written a project framework agreement for Oconee County for the widening but not for Athens-Clarke County.
Kyle Mote, GDOT Planning Office representative to MACORTS, said at the Wednesday meeting that GDOT had already reallocated the funds for the Jimmy Daniell widening, so no action by MACORTS was needed.
The widening of Jimmy Daniell Road was one of three roadway projects covered by separate project framework agreements that GDOT sent to the county in July of 2014.
The other two agreements covered changes to Daniells Bridge Road.
The Policy Committee will meet at 10 a.m. in the Madison County Government Annex in Danielsville.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis is the primary representative of Oconee County on the Policy Committee.
Davis was a strong proponent of all three of the PFAs the county received from GDOT in July of 2014 and argued that an extension of Daniells Bridge Road to fly over SR Loop 10 to connect to the Oconee Connector was a top county priority. The Board of Commissioners did not accept the Daniells Bridge Road PFAs.
The county’s Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning was critical of the Daniells Bridge Road projects, with several members arguing, as Beshara did before MACORTS, that the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection improvements were a much higher priority.
If Davis does not support adding the SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection to the MACORTS plans, the Policy Committee is unlikely to accept the recommendation of the Technical Coordinating Committee to make the change.
The full video of the meeting of the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee is below.
The meeting was held in the Government Building, 120 W. Dougherty Street, Athens.
B.R. White, Planning Department director in Oconee County, chaired the committee. Sherry McDuffie, transportation planner with Athens-Clarke County and MACORTS, is seated to the left of White in the video.
Oconee County Public Works Director Beshara is shown on the right on the screen shot below.
NOTE: Burney from GDOT sent me her email message explaining the contents of the next task order with KCI on the morning of Jan. 28. I read it and put it aside for future use.
When I posted this story, I realized that the word "not" did not appear in the quote about the scope of work to be assigned to KCI. So I wrote in the original version of this post the following:
If KCI determines that the existing alignment of U.S. 441, which goes through the middle of Bishop, is not appropriate, KCI should “determine a new alignment that meets design criteria while avoiding/minimizing impacts including, but limited to environmental resources, community resources, potential hazardous waste sites, and underground storage tanks.”
I sent Burney an email message late on Jan. 30 when I posted and asked if "not" had been inadvertently dropped.
Burney confirmed in an email message on the morning of Feb. 1 that "not" should have been included. The body of this post has been modified to reflect what Burney said was the original intent.