The Oconee County Board of Commissioners has not yet gotten around to appointing its new advisory committee on transportation.
Commission Chair John Daniell, has said, however, that its first order of business will be to review the 282-page report presented to the county by the Georgia Department of Transportation earlier this year.
The report provides a priority ranking for county road projects in three areas: those that will improve the “capacity” of the road, those that will improve the operation of the road, and those that will improve intersections.
The report also list bridges most in need of upgrade and recommends a series of bicycle and pedestrian projects in the county.
Daniell has given no time table for appointment of the advisory committee–which will be a replacement for the disbanded Land Use And Transportation Planning Committee--or for public discussion of the report.
At its meeting on Tuesday night, the Board, in executive session, will consider appointment of members of two other citizen committees.
The Board will select two persons from among the three applicants for the Planning Commission and appointment of five persons from the seven applicants for the Recreational Affairs Committee.
The Georgia Department of Transportation contracted with HNTB Corporation of Atlanta to provide the Transportation Study for Oconee County.
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HNTB used a variety of data sources to recommend projects, in rank order, for the county to pursue.
The top ranked project in the capacity building area–which could have included construction of new roads–was the widening to four lanes of Macon Highway from Rockinwood Drive to the county line and then beyond to South Lumpkin Street in Athens-Clarke County.
The top operation improvement was to Hog Mountain Road between Herman C. Michael Park and Oconee Veterans Park. The report doesn’t specify the nature of the improvements, but it notes the higher than average crashes at the location.
The top intersection in need of improvement, according to the report, is SR 316 at the Oconee Connector. Between 2013 and 2017, 275 crashes occurred at this intersection, according to the report.
The bridge most in need of upgrade, according to the report, is Elder Mill Covered Bridge on Elder Mill Road over Rose Creek.
The top recommendation for a pedestrian and bicycle enhancement is a 1.3 mile stretch of SR 15 in Watkinsville from Experiment Station Road on the north to the city limits north of Porter’s Creek on the south.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on June 25, Daniell told the Board that six members of the county’s Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee had terms expiring on Sept. 30 of this year.
Daniell said is was his recommendation that no applications be accepted for the expiring terms.
Instead of appointing members to the existing committee, Daniell said, the remaining six members on the Committee should become a Task Force that will be asked to review the county’s transportation study.
After completion of that assignment, Daniell said, the Task Force will be dissolved until another is needed.
The Board approved the dissolution of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee at its meeting on July 2.
In July of 2017, Daniell had told the Board that the county was about to enter into an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation for a county-wide transportation study.
According to information released at that time, GDOT was entering into a $215,082 consultant contract with HNTB Corporation to provide a multi-modal transportation study for Oconee County.
HNTB was to document and evaluate the exiting transportation system of the county and recommend needed improvements, those documents stated.
The cost to Oconee County was listed as $45,091.
The final report, dated March of 2019, is available on the county web site. The official name is Oconee County Long Range Transportation Plan.
Daniell has referenced the document at public meetings, indicating its availability to the public for review.
The document projects needs for the entire county through 2045, but it is separate from the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan created by MACORTS, the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, which has responsibility only for the northern part of Oconee County.
The report lists five capacity improvements, including the four-laning of Macon Highway at the county line.
The second project in terms of priority is the widening of Simonton Bridge Road from North Main Street in Watkinsville to the county line from the existing two lanes to four lanes. The recommendation also calls for the widening of Whitehall Road in Athens-Clarke County to South Milledge Avenue.
The third project is the widening to four lanes of McNutt Creek Road and then Pete Dickens Road from Aiken Road on the south of Bogart to U.S. 78.
The fourth project is the widening from four to six lanes of U.S. 441 from the SR 10 Loop to Hog Mountain Road.
The sixth and final top-ranked capacity project is Hog Mountain Road from Hebron Church Road in the far northwest of the county to Mars Hill Road at Butler’s Crossing. The proposal is to increase the roadway from two to four lanes.
The HNTB report lists five projects, including the improvement to Hog Mountain Road at the county’s Veterans and Herman C. Michael parks.
The report calls for unspecified improvements to the stretch of Epps Bridge Parkway (SR 316) from the Oconee Connector to SR Loop 10.
It also calls for improvements to the east bound exit lane from SR 316 Epps Bridge Parkway to the Oconee Connector.
The fourth project improvement would be to Mars Hill Road from Rocky Branch to Daniells Bridge Road.
The final project improvement would be on U.S. 441 from SR 186 (High Shoals Road) to Price Mill Road in Bishop.
Two of the five intersections most in need of improvement, after the SR 316 intersection with the Oconee Connector, also are with SR 316 or Epps Bridge Parkway.
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The second priority should be improvements to the intersection of SR 316 with SR Loop 10, according to the report.
The third priority is the intersection of the Oconee Connector inside SR Loop 10 with Epps Bridge Parkway.
The fourth priority is the intersection of SR 15 at U.S. 441 on the northern edge of Watkinsville. The county has purchased property for its future administrative building at this intersection.
The fifth intersection on the HNTB list is at city center in Watkinsville where South Main Street, Barnett Shoals Road and SR 15 (Greensboro Highway) come together.
Bridges And Bikes
In addition to the Elder Mill Road bridge, the Oconee County Long Range Transportation Plan lists the bridge on Branch Road over Freeman Creek, the bridge on SR Loop 10 over McNutt Creek, and the Bridge on Clotfelter Road over Barber Creek as deficient and in need of improvement by 2025.
The bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects, in addition to the one through Watkinsville on Main Street and SR 15, include, as the second priority, construction of bike lanes on Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to Main Street.
The planners also called from pedestrian improvements on Experiment Station Road from Main Street to the Sheriff’s Office.
The next priority, according to the report, is sidewalks on Experiment Station Road from Loch Lomond Circle to Stonebridge Parkway.
The final project is a bike lane from the Watkinsville city limit to the Green County line on SR 15 (Greensboro Highway).
HNTB said it drew on a variety of sources of information in creating the report to the county, including the county’s own Comprehensive Plan and documents available from MACORTS.
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It also looked at land use, population projections, employment patterns, traffic counts, and crash data.
HNTB appointed a Stakeholder Advisory Group consisting of 19 members.
Seven of the 19 members were GDOT employees.
Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell, County Administrator Justin Kirouac, and then Public Works Director Emil Beshara were part of the Advisory Group, as were the mayors of each of the county’s four cities.
School Superintendent Jason Branch, Chamber of Commerce President Courtney Bernardi, and Captain James Hale from the Sheriff’s Office were on the Advisory Group and were joined by representatives of MACORTS and the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.
The group met twice, in April and October of 2018, according to the report.
HNTB conducted a survey to gather “public input.” The stakeholders helped recruit respondents for that survey, which ultimately had 545 responses, according to the report.
The Board of Commissioners will hold two public hearings on Tuesday on the proposed tax increase, which results from the decision of the Board not to adjust the millage rate to accommodate the inflationary increase in property in the county that has not changed use.
The first of these will be at 11 a.m., while the second will be at 5:30 p.m., before the agenda-setting Commission meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The Board has changed how it appoints members of its advisory committees. It no longer asks applications to appear before the Board at its agenda setting meetings, as had been the custom in the past.
Following those appearances, the Board would go into executive session to appoint citizens to the committees. The names of the various applicants had been announced in the open session.
On late Thursday, County Clerk Kathy Hayes sent me and Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, an email message indicating that the county had created a new web page listing applicants for county advisory committees.
The page contains the three applicants for the Planning Commission and the seven applicants for the Recreational Affairs Committee. This makes the names of the applicants public, even though the names will not be announced in the open Commission meeting before the executive session.
The agenda for the meeting on Tuesday is light, but it does include a report from current Public Works Director Jody Woodall on Phase II of the Mars Hill Road Widening Project, which is from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 Watkinsville Bypass.