Construction of Phase I of the Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road project is on schedule, and county leaders are hopeful that construction on Phase II will begin as work on Phase I is completed at the end of May of next year.
Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara gave that report to the Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning last week.
Beshara, responding to questions from the Committee, labeled a connector between SR 15 and U.S. 441 in the south of the county as the “number one need for a road that doesn’t exist today.”
The Land Use Committee also got a brief summary of the work of the citizen Stakeholders Committee working on the revision of the county’s Comprehensive Plan from citizens who sit on both committees.
Tommy Malcom highlighted what he expects will be a recommendation in the Comprehensive Plan that development be spread around the county rather than concentrated along the Epps Bridge Parkway corridor.
Abe Abouhamdan, chair of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, invited Beshara to update the Committee on the Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road project at the very beginning of the Nov. 14 meeting in the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park.
|Beshara At Meeting 11/14/2017|
Beshara said the first phase of the project, from SR 316 to Butler’s Crossing, is “on schedule to be complete by the end of May of next year.”
Contractor G.P.’s Enterprises Inc. switched traffic from one side of the future four-lane road to the other last month, Beshara said, and will switch traffic at least one more time before the project is completed.
Much of the work underway at present involves pouring concrete for curbs, gutters and sidewalks, he said.
“The project is going along really very smoothly,” Beshara said. “I think that there has been minimal interruption or disruption of traffic to date.”
Phases II And III
Beshara told the Land Use Committee that right of way acquisition and design work for Phase II of the project is complete.
Phase II is from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 bypass of Watkinsville.
Funding for construction is now set for Fiscal Year 2019, Beshara said, and “We’re hopeful that it will move even farther forward, hopefully to the point where they let a construction contract next year.”
Phase III, which extends from the bypass to downtown Watkinsville, is “long range and unfunded,” Beshara said.
Beshara labeled the design work for Phase III as “largely useless” because regulations and design criteria have changed in the 25 years since the project was initiated.
Responded To Questions
Following the presentation on the Mars Hill Road project, Beshara responded to a wide range of questions raised by the members of the Land Use Committee.
Beshara said he expects work on the intersection of Rocky Branch Road, Mars Hill Road and Virgil Langford Road will get underway in the next two weeks.
Turn lanes and a traffic signal will be added to the intersection.
He said work is progressing on the flyover at the Oconee Connector and SR 316 and that the state has plans for a new bridge on Malcom Bridge Road over Barber Creek.
Beshara said the county is upgrading Hog Mountain Road to accommodate the new Dove Creek Elementary School near the Barrow County Line and that he isn’t optimistic about improvements to Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing.
Hog Mountain Road is a state route and under state control.
Beshara made it clear he believes a bypass of Bishop will be incorporated into the plans to widen the roadway from Madison to Watkinsville.
Earlier this year the state proposed dropping plans for a bypass from the design.
Beshara said the Georgia Department of Transportation has “construction funding for the Bishop Bypass, I believe, in the 2019 Fiscal Year. Which would mean they should pick an alignment quick and start the design and start right of way acquisition.”
Beshara told me in an email message the next day that he reviewed the plans and that he had incorrectly stated that the bypass was mentioned in the GDOT funding documents. He said he relayed that correction to the members of the Land Use Committee.
SR 15 And U.S. 441 Connector
Beshara said a connector between SR 15 and U.S. 441 south of Watkinsville originally was to follow Green Ferry Road from SR 15 to Colham Ferry Road and then create a new roadway through to U.S. 441.
Current thinking is that a connector would follow the exiting route of Astondale Road, he said.
“The reality is that road is not going to happen until the Bishop Bypass design is settled,” Beshara said.
Beshara said that connector, ‘in my opinion, is the number one road that doesn’t exist that we need in Oconee County.”
Several members of the Land Use Committee also are on the Stakeholders Committee working on the revision of the Comprehensive Plan.
Malcom, who is on both committees, said the Land Use Committee can help the Comprehensive Plan Stakeholders Committee to “identify another area in the county” other than the Epps Bridge Parkway corridor for development.
He mentioned the areas around the University of North Georgia, at the intersection of Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 78, and Bishop as places where the county might “kind of encourage another growth magnet.”
“I think we have to be realistic and we can’t expect everybody to come into Oconee and then run out there for everything,” Malcom said in reference to Epps Bridge Parkway. “Is there a way that we can kind of help manage that long term?”
Abouhamdan’s response was positive, calling Malcom’s observation “definitely a good point.”
The next meeting of the Stakeholders Committee for the Comprehensive Plan has been rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park.
MACORTS (Madison Athens Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study) will hold a drop-in meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 27, also at the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park.
The meeting is to discuss the inclusion of “safety performance targets” in the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan and the FY 18 – 21 Transportation Improvement Program.
The Georgia Department of Transportation sent out a newsletter to those interested in the upgrade to U.S. 441 last week, saying that GDOT will hold “Public Information Open Houses” in Morgan County and Oconee County at some unspecified date.
At the meetings, the public will have the “opportunity to review and comment on the revised conceptual roadway alignments before any decisions are finalized,” according to the newsletter.
In addition, the newsletter said that ecologists are in the area conducting field surveys and that archeological surveys also will be undertaken shortly.
The newsletter said that GDOT had sent letters to property owners in the U.S. 441 corridor advising them that people would be coming onto their property to conduct the archeological surveys.
The video of the entire meeting of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee is below.
Beshara’s comments on Mars Hill start at 2:54.
The discussion of the Bishop Bypass starts at 12:37.
The discussion regarding a connector between SR 15 and U.S. 441 starts at 46:35.
The Comprehensive Plan discussion begins at 49:05.