The Georgia Department of Transportation is proposing that U.S. 441 be widened to three lanes through the center of Bishop rather than build a bypass of the small Oconee County city.
GDOT also is proposing that the highway be widened to four lanes from Bishop north to Watkinsville and from Bishop south to Madison following the alignment of the existing roadway.
GDOT released the proposed route tonight (Tuesday) at the first meeting of the Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee, where it met with strong opposition from Bishop Mayor Johnny Pritchett and Farmington resident Buddy Murrow, both members of the Citizen Advisory Committee.
Pritchett and Murrow said they want a bypass of Bishop, but Bruce Anderson, GDOT project manager, said no plans for a bypass are being considered at this time.
To slow traffic moving through Bishop, consultants to GDOT are proposing two roundabouts, one on each end of the city.
|Committee Reviewing Maps|
The plans call for streetscaping to make the roadway pedestrian friendly, for landscaping and for pedestrian lighting.
The three lanes would stay within the existing right of way in the city and would accommodate traffic moving at its present rate of 45 miles per hour.
“If we stay in downtown Bishop, that takes away all of the issues that we heard about,” said Kerrie Boyette, GDOT consultant with KCI Technologies Inc., a Maryland firm with offices in Duluth.
By not building the bypass, GDOT would minimize environmental impact, not disturb archeological sites, not damage streams, and not have negative impact on farms, Boyette said.
Pritchett hardly let Boyette finish.
“To talk about what you’re talking about, three lanes, is ridiculous,” he said. “It will not work.”
“And I second that,” said Murrow.
When Boyette rolled out the plans, Pritchett became even more animated. “This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I hate to tell you that, but I’m going to tell you. It needs to be bypassed.”
At one point, he stood up to leave, but he ended up staying until the end of the 90-minute session.
He said he would go over the heads of the GDOT officials, contacting his representatives and calling the governor.
The improvements of U.S. 441 are to run from the end of the existing bypass of Watkinsville on the north to the end of the existing Madison bypass in Morgan County on the south.
The plans are to follow the existing alignment and use the existing two lanes.
The new lanes will be built on either side of the existing roadway as appropriate.
To minimize the impact of the roadway, a 24 inch concrete median will be used in place of a 44 inch grass median.
The design is for a 55-miles-per-hour speed, the current speed limit on the roadway.
Pritchett and Murrow were so dominant at the meeting that it was hard for others to speak, particularly if they wanted to express a different point of view.
Lisa Douglas, who was one of the founders of Positively Oconee, a citizen group working to preserve green space, particularly in the south of the county, finally spoke up about an hour into the meeting.
“We are gaining a lot in the county by this route,” she said. “We’re gaining a lot for farmland, for our southern agricultural heritage.”
“I hope this works,” Douglas said. “I hope it makes Bishop a good place for everyone.
“There are a lot of people that will be happy about this idea, about this alignment, all throughout the county,” she added.
Claudia Bilotto from consultant WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, an international engineering services firm with offices in Atlanta, said she expected the next public meeting on the GDOT plans will be in two or three months.
She said one possibility is another meeting with the Citizens Advisory Committee, followed by a meeting with the general public.
At a meeting last June, GDOT and its consultants said plans for the roadway should be completed in the spring of 2018, with right of way acquisition to begin in the summer of that year.
The project is scheduled to be let for construction in the spring of 2021, the officials said at that time.
Meeting And Video
The meeting took place from 5 p.m. to just short of 6:30 p.m. in the Community Center in Veterans Park.
It began with introductions of the Citizen Advisory Committee members and a handful of others present.
The agenda for the meeting was quite general, and it wasn’t clear that the Committee was going to see actual plans until Boyette began to speak.
Boyette focused immediately on Bishop, since most of the controversy regarding the route in the past has centered around possible bypass routes.
Boyette started her discussion of the plans at 8:18 in the video of the entire session, which is below.
The conversation degenerated into a series of small discussions and then was brought back to order.
Douglas made her comments just after 1:01:10 in the video.