Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Georgia Department Of Transportation Picks Plan With Detour Route For New Apalachee River Bridge At High Shoals

***Bridge Links Oconee And Walton Counties***

While acknowledging citizen opposition to its plan, the Georgia Department of Transportation has decided that closing the SR 186 bridge over the Apalachee River at High Shoals and detouring traffic 15.8 miles around the construction of a replacement bridge is the preferred option.

The project is now in preliminary design stage, Mindy Sanders, GDOT project manager said Tuesday.

The contract is scheduled to be let in April of 2022, based on the current time table, according to Sanders. Construction normally follows in about three months, she said, and is expected to last 15 months.

GDOT said it received 49 comments from citizens expressing their opinions on the project, and 18 were opposed to the adopted plan, 12 supported it, 17 gave what was labeled conditional support, and two did not commit.

Many supported an alternative plan that would have avoided the detour by building a replacement bridge just upstream from the existing structure rather building a bridge on the site of the existing structure.

City Council of North High Shoals on the Oconee County side of the river also passed a resolution favoring the rejected alternative because of the inconvenience of the detour.

Adopted Plan

The existing bridge on SR 186 at High Shoals on the Apalachee River was built in 1958, and the overall condition of this bridge is classified as poor, according to GDOT. (The document is on the GDOT web site, but it is not possible to link to it. I downloaded it and uploaded it to Box.)

Detour Route (Click To Enlarge)

The deck is in fair condition with minor cracking, while the superstructure is in poor condition with cracking and exposed rebar.

This bridge is classified as having an unknown foundation and therefore could be at risk for scour.

The new bridge will replace the existing 468-foot long bridge with 1-foot shoulders with an approximately 500-foot long bridge with 12-foot travel lanes and 8-foot shoulders.

The new bridge will be asphalt paved and have a speed limit of 45 mph, the same as for the current bridge.

Construction will impact six parcels, including the displacement of two parcels.

The overall project length is 0.30 miles.

Detour Route

The distance along SR 186 from Good Hope in Walton County to Bishop in Oconee County is 11.1 miles with the present bridge in place.

Project Map (Click To Enlarge)

During the closure of that bridge for construction, traffic will be detoured along a 26.9 miles route, or a net increase of 15.8 miles.

The detour utilizes only state routes.

Local residents have the option to use local roads to shorten the detour, according to the GDOT analysis.

School bus routes will not be affected, according to the GDOT report.

Response To Citizens Comments

GDOT held a stakeholders meeting to discuss the project on January 9 at the Bishop Community Center and an open house for citizens on March 7 at Oconee County Veterans Park.

Sixty-nine people showed up for the open house.

Final approval to the accepted design was on June 6.

In a letter to citizens dated June 17, Eric Duff, GDOT state environmental administrator, responded to the 49 persons who had submitted comments on the proposal. (I had submitted a comment and received a copy of the letter.)

“Based on the number of responses received expressing opposition to the off-site detour option,” Duff wrote, “the project team consideration was given to the alternative skewed alignment for the bridge replacement.”

“However, because of additional costs and impacts to the environment, and additional costs to right-of-way and construction, it has been determined that proceeding with the off-site detour alternative is the best option for this project and the town of North High Shoals,” Duff wrote.

Other Comments and Responses

Several citizens asked for sidewalks and bike lanes on the new bridge.

Duff said that the bridge will have 8-foot shoulders on both sides “which can accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.”

These lanes will not be designed as pedestrian or bike lanes, he added.

Duff also said that while construction will run 15 months, the actual time of the bridge closure is anticipated to be less than 15 months.

Moving the bridge upstream to avoid the detour would result in “additional environmental impacts to streams and wetlands. In addition, there would be additional right-of-way costs and displacements.”

Toby Bradberry, mayor of North High Shoals, told me in an email message onTuesday that he and other Council members had received a letter in the last two or so weeks that summarized GDOT responses to open house meeting.

I spoke by telephone with Project Manager Sanders Tuesday.

Duff’s letter provided an incorrect telephone number for those who wanted to speak with Sanders about the project.

Sanders asked that I include the correct number, 678-986-7648, in this post.

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