Construction of passing lanes on SR 15 in both Oconee and Greene counties is on the list for conceptual planning with the Georgia Department of Transportation, Rep. Chuck Williams told members of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority last week.
Williams said he has been working with Rep. Trey Rhodes of Greensboro on the project, made possible because of funds raised by the increase in fuel taxes and imposition of a hotel tax by the General Assembly in the 2015 session.
“We’ve got that in the GDOT pipeline now,” Williams said of the SR 15 project. Funding should be available in the next fiscal year, he said, and the project could be completed in the "next couple of years."
Williams also stated that the master plan for the widening of U.S. 441 calls for four lanes and left little doubt that he expects the route in Oconee County, including a bypass of Bishop, to be four-lanes as well.
GDOT officials have stated in three meetings going back to late December that the plans for the road have not been settled and that a three-lane design is a possibility.
Williams said that he had worked with Rhodes on the SR 15 proposal because of safety concerns involving the highway. Both are Republicans.
People take risks passing trucks and other slow moving vehicles on the road, Williams said at the Aug. 8 IDA meeting, held at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce on Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
Williams lives on Old Watson Spring Road in the far south of the county and travels on SR 15. Williams represents most of Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives.
The plans before GDOT call for construction of one set of northbound and southbound passing lanes in Oconee County and another set of northbound and southbound passing lanes in Green County north of Greensboro, according to Williams.
Williams said “we’ll probably be meeting this fall to look at possible locations” of the lanes.
Williams was responding to a question from IDA Chairman Rick Waller when he stated that the master plan for U.S. 441 calls for four lanes from the Florida border to the North Carolina border.
Williams turned to Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, an IDA member, after making that statement, seeking confirmation.
“Matter of fact, I know you’re right,” Davis said.
Davis and Williams have attended the meetings in December, April and June where GDOT officials said the design was not fixed. At the June meeting, one of those officials said it even is possible that no widening of the road will take place in the county.
No Further Details
I called and emailed Williams several times after the meeting seeking additional information on the SR 15 design and on his comments on U.S. 441.
Williams responded via email on Aug. 11, saying “Extremely busy; nothing to elaborate beyond what was shared at OCIDA.” OCIDA stands for Oconee County Industrial Development Authority.
I responded by asking him once again for a few minutes of his time, but he did not answer.
Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told me in an email message on Aug. 10 that he had not yet seen any plans for the construction of passing lanes on SR 15.
Each member of the IDA is given a chance to make an individual report at IDA meetings, and Williams spoke a little more than 11 minutes.
The video below contains two separate clips, one including Williams’ comments on SR 15 and the other containing his comments on U.S. 441.
The full video of the IDA meeting, with Williams’ comments near the end, is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.