Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told the county’s commissioners last week that the county will fall further behind in maintenance of its 400 plus miles of road unless the Board changes the way the county funds roadway maintenance.
The county stopped putting general fund revenue into road work in Fiscal Year 2009, Beshara reminded the commissioners, relying instead on state revenue and money from the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Beshara asked the commissioners to put, at a minimum, $130,000 of general fund revenue into his budget for the next two years so he can move forward on planned road maintenance and improvement projects.
In addition to the regular patching of roads, Beshara listed a series of projects he wants to complete, including improvements to the intersection of Rocky Branch, Virgil Langford and Mars Hill Road and to the intersection of Union Church Road and Hog Mountain Road.
The improvements in both cases would involve installation of a traffic signal.
Beshara met with the Board of Commissioners last Friday in what was billed as a working session on transportation issues in the county.
The Public Works director began the session with a five-minute briefing for the commissioners on his department’s preparation for dealing with the threatening winter weather, but he then spent an hour and 45 minutes reviewing his road projects for the next two years.
Beshara proposed an $8.8 million budget for the two-year time period, but half of that was for the county’s contribution to the Mars Hill Road widening, the Experiment Station Road widening, and the Parkway Boulevard Extension.
The budget includes $125,000 for continued design work and utility relocation for the widening of Mars Hill Road from SR 316 to Hog Mountain Road (Mars Hill Phase I).
It also includes $530,000 for design, right of way acquisition, and utility relocation for the widening of Experiment Station Road from Hog Mountain Road to the U.S. 441 Bypass (Mars Hill Phase II).
State and federal monies pay for the remaining and largest parts of those projects.
Beshara’s budget included $3.7 million for construction of Parkway Boulevard Extension to link the stub of Parkway Boulevard at Kohl’s with the Oconee Connector opposite Epps Bridge Centre.
The commissioners have voted to go forward with that project but have not indicated how they plan to pay for it.
The commissioners have approached the county’s Industrial Development Authority about issuing bonds for the project.
The IDA is getting revenue as part of the 2015 SPLOST and could be asked to use some of that revenue to pay off the bonds.
SPLOST 2015 also stipulated that $2 million per year for six years be aside for transportation projects, and the commissioners told the voters that the money would be used for basic maintenance.
The county exercises little constraint on how it actually spends SPLOST revenue, however, and County Attorney Daniel Haygood told the commissioners at the meeting on Friday that his fees for road projects often come from the county’s SPLOST accounts.
The county budgets SPLOST revenues conservatively, and Beshara incorporated $3.4 million from SPLOST for the next two years into his budget.
He also is expecting about $.87 million from the state for local roadway work.
That leaves the $130,000 he is seeking as the minimum from the county’s General Fund to balance the budget.
20 Miles Of Resurfacing
With that money, Beshara told the Board, he will be able to resurface 10 miles of county roadway in each of the next two years, for a total of 20 miles.
The county’s goal has been to resurface 20 miles per year, he said, and that is the minimum needed to keep the county from falling behind on needed maintenance.
Beshara explains in the clip below that it costs the county more money to repair roads if they are allowed to fall into disrepair.
During the last two years, the county has resurfaced 3.8 miles using SPLOST funds.
During that same two-year period, it resurfaced 8.1 miles using state funds.
Mars Hill Phase II
While Mars Hill Phase I is on schedule, that is not the case for Mars Hill Phase II, Beshara told the Board.
The bid letting date is going to be pushed back to the end of this year, reflecting the fact that the county has not been able to acquire the right of way for the road work.
Beshara said he expects the county is going to have to condemn 20 properties that the county has not been able to acquire through negotiation.
He has budgeted $150,000 for those condemnation proceedings.
Plans For Two Intersections
Beshara presented to the Board design plans for the intersection of Rocky Branch Road and Virgil Langford Road with Mars Hill Road.
Rocky Branch approaches from the south, and Virgil Langford approaches from the north.
The concept plans calls for turn lanes on all three roads and a traffic light.
Union Church Road at Hog Mountain Road also will have a right turn lane and a traffic signal.
Hog Mountain And U.S. 441
Beshara explained that the delay in completion of the intersection improvements for Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 441 have resulted from problems with the paving put down by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
He said he expected those problems to be resolved in the next three weeks.
Also needed are striping and changes to the traffic signal.
The project was supposed to be completed last Fall.
The commissioners met in the Grand Jury Room of the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The video below is of the entire meeting.
Public Works Director Beshara told me in an email message on Jan. 27 that he considered building a roundabout at the intersection of Virgil Langford Road, Mars Hill Road and Rocky Branch Road rather than installing the traffic signal but rejected the idea because of expense.
Beshara said the roundabout would require the purchase of more right of way than will the design with the signal. The intersection also presented "topographical challenges" that would increase the expense of a roundabout, he wrote.
ABE Consulting did the design work for the intersection. ABE Consulting is owned by Abe Abouhamdan, chair of the county's Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning. That Committee had discussed a roundabout at that intersection favorably in the past.
The intersection design ABE Consulting produced shows a right turn lane, a through lane, and a left turn lane in each of the four roads sections coming into the intersection and a single lane leaving the intersection on each of those four segments.