The regional transportation planning body for Oconee County will be seeking public comment from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Community Center in Veterans Park on a proposal to move forward funding for improvements to the intersection of SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.
The Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS), the cooperative transportation planning body for the urbanized area, including northern Oconee County, is seeking citizen reaction to its proposed amendment to its Long Range Transportation Plan.
The changes will add funding for a multi-grade interchange at SR 316 at Oconee Connector into the MACORTS Long Range Transportation Plan and move improvements to Union Church Road and the widening of Simonton Bridge Road into the unfunded section of the plan.
The Long Range Transportation Plan includes all projects for which federal funds will be sought in the MACORTS area through 2040.
In order to add the SR 316 and Oconee Connector interchange to the document, it is necessary to remove others.
The MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee, at its meeting on June 22, recommended that construction of an $18 million multigrade interchange at SR 316 and the Oconee Connector be added to the body’s Long Range Transportation Plan.
The MACORTS Policy Committee accepted that recommendation at its meeting on July 13 and voted to seek public comment.
Final action by the Policy Committee is scheduled for Sept. 14.
The proposal is to add funding for the project into the 2020-2024 funding cycle, making it necessary to remove projects already in that funding cycle of at least that amount.
The proposal is to remove two projects from the 2020-2024 funding cycle, putting them into the unfunded category for that time period.
One is widening of Simonton Bridge Road to 12-foot lanes with right turn lanes at nine intersections and center turn lanes at three intersections. The estimated cost is just less than $14 million.
The second is widening of Union Church Road with a roundabout at New High Shoals Road and sidewalks. The estimated cost is just more than $15 million.
Background On Decision
The proposal to include the multi-grade SR 316 and Oconee Connector intersection in the Long Range plan is the result of efforts by Emil Beshara, Oconee County Public Works director and a member of the Technical Coordinating Committee.
Beshara called improvements to the intersection the number one priority for the county and argued that the Oconee County Citizen Advisory Board for Land Use and Transportation Planning has said the same.
Beshara asked the Technical Coordinating Committee at its meeting on Jan. 27 of this year to amend the MACORTS 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan to add the improvements to the SR 316 and Oconee Connector.
The interchange upgrade had been part of a package of interchange upgrades along SR 316, Beshara said, and he wanted the interchange with the Connector listed as a separate project in the MACORTS document so it can be addressed more quickly.
In order to obtain the $18 million in funding needed, Beshara proposed removing improvements to Union Church Road from the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan and reducing the amount of funding for Mars Hill Road Widening Phase III.
Mars Hill Road Widening Phase III is for that section of Experiment Station Road from the Watkinsville U.S. 441 Bypass to Main Street in downtown Watkinsville.
The total cost listed in the MACORTS planning document for the project is $8.4 million, and Beshara’s proposal was to remove $3 million from that total.
Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis objected, and Beshara has been working since that time to find an alternative.
The Simonton Bridge Road widening was chosen.
Beshara argued that improvements to Simonton Bridge Road had to be coordinated with Athens-Clarke County, and, since no funds in the Long Range Plans were available for Whitehall Road in Athens-Clarke County, which connects with Simonton Bridge Road, it made sense to move Simonton Bridge Road lower in terms of priority.
The comment period for the change in the Long Range Transportation Plans is from July 25 to Aug. 8.
In addition to the public meeting in Oconee County on Tuesday, meetings will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, 120 W. Dougherty Street.
A third meeting will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 2 at the Madison County Government Annex in Danielsville.
Comment also can be made on the MACORTS web site.
TIP Change Too
MACORTS also is accepting public comment on a proposed amendment to the FY 2015 – 2018 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
The proposed amendment includes changing the right-of-way (ROW) phase of the SR 10 Loop at Lexington Road Interchange project to Fiscal Year 2017 from Fiscal Year 2019.
The proposal includes the widening of Lexington Road to two travel lanes in each direction with two auxiliary lanes in the vicinity of the interchange. The northbound interchange ramps will be reconstructed. Project design will provide for connection with a rail-to-trail corridor.
Total cost of the project is $22.5 million. Cost of the right of way acquisition–the component being moved forward--is $7.5 million.
The video of the brief meeting of the MACORTS Policy Committee on July 13 is below.
The meeting took place in the Madison County Government Annex in Danielsville.
Oconee County BOC Chairman Melvin Davis. In the video, seated to his right, is Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson and Bob Sanders, Oconee County citizen representative to the Policy Committee.
Sarah Bell recorded the video.