Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis’ proposal for the county to spend upwards of $1.3 million to extend Bishop Farms Parkway received no support last (Tuesday) night from the Citizen Advisory Committee On Land Use and Transportation Planning.
The plan is to extend Bishop Farms Parkway from Experiment Station Road to New High Shoals Road, giving University of North Georgia students, faculty and staff another access point to the campus.
The citizen committee didn’t vote down the proposal. Committee Chair Abe Abouhamdan asked it not to do that. Instead it reaffirmed an earlier ranking of the roadway as a low priority for the county.
Davis received a second setback today (Wednesday) when the Georgia Department of Transportation formally denied the county’s request to create a full median break on Mars Hill Road to accommodate land owner Doug Dickens.
Bishop Farms Parkway
Abouhamdan told the group last night that he had been approached by Chairman Davis and asked to “look at” the proposed extension of Bishop Farms Parkway.
The idea of extending the existing road from its current terminus just south of the University of North Georgia to connect up with South Bishop Farms Parkway and then New High Shoals Road has been discussed for many years.
County Public Works Director Emil Beshara told the group his plan would be to modify the preliminary design to bring the new road closer to the U.S. 441 Bypass of Watkinsville so the new road could share an expanded box culvert for Calls Creek with the bypass itself.
The road would then have to swing back west to connect with South Bishop Farms Parkway.
Beshara said a low estimate of the cost of the project was $1.35 million, but the cost easily could go much higher, even to double that amount.
Beshara said the roadway would provide a second entranceway to the campus of the University of North Georgia.
At present, all traffic to the campus comes off Experiment Station Road.
Earlier attempts to gain direct access for the University to U.S. 441 had been denied by the state, Beshara said, and he didn’t expect that to change.
If the Bishop Parkway Extension were built, Beshara said, students and others could leave and enter campus from U.S. 441 at the intersection of New High Shoals Road and U.S. 441, which is regulated by a traffic light.
No one from the Land Use and Transportation Committee expressed any support for the proposal.
At one point, John Chenhall, newly appointed member of the Committee, asked Beshara where this project would be ranked in terms of his priorities.
Beshara said “I think I will decline to answer.” He did say that the $1.35 million was more than half the money he has this year for road maintenance in the county.
He said if he were given $1.35 million he would put it into resurfacing existing roads or into improvements in the Rocky Branch Road/Mars Hill Road/Virgil Langford Road intersection.
Committee member Tammy Gilland reminded the Committee that last year it had ranked 18 projects in the county and put the Bishop Farms Parkway extension at 13th.
The video of that exchange involving Chenhall, Beshara and Gilland is below.
The Committee voted to send a note to the Board of Commissioners reaffirming that earlier ranking.
Mars Hill Median Cut
At its meeting on July 5, the Board of Commissioners had agreed to spend $5,000 to make the case to the Georgia Department of Transportation that the median cut GDOT had approved for Mars Hill Road at the Dickens property should be further modified.
GDOT had already turned down the requested modification, but the Board said it felt an obligation to Dickens to ask again for the change. Davis was a strong proponent of the county supporting Dickens’ request for the design change.
The requested design modification would allow a left-turn out of Dickens property, which is across Mars Hill Road from the Athens Area Humane Society Adoption Center and Spay and Neuter Clinic, 1781 Mars Hill Road.
The approved design allows for a left-turn into the currently undeveloped Dickens property for southbound traffic and a right-turn in and right-turn out on the northbound side of the road.
Message From GDOT
The county already had spent $5,000 on design work in support of the requested change for Dickens when it agreed to spend the additional $5,000 to create a “design exception/design variance package” making the case with GDOT for the full median cut.
Beshara told the commissioners that expenditure of the additional $5,000 could be in vain.
I have asked Beshara repeatedly in recent weeks if he had heard from GDOT regarding the request, and this morning he indicated that he had.
In an email message he said that “this morning GDOT formally denied inclusion of the full median break at the Humane Society. They did not provide details beyond conveying that it was denied other than to say that they feel appropriate accommodation has been made in the current design.”
The full video of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting is below.
The meeting was held in the Community Center at Veterans Park.