To get to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners’ Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, visitors had to walk through a simulated roundabout constructed in the lobby of the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.
Once inside the meeting room, the visitors found easels with diagrams of roundabouts and explanations of the signage commonly found in them.
Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell had said in advance that, while the Town Hall Meeting would provide citizens the opportunity to ask questions on any topic, roundabout would be a central theme.
After Oconee County Public Works Director Jody Woodall and Georgia Department of Transportation Specialist Richard Crowe gave introductory comments on roundabouts, Daniell opened up the meeting for audience input.
While many of the questions that followed were on roundabouts, citizens also talked about county revenue streams, the county’s planned new Administrative Building, Internet access, the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and the relationship between the School Board and the Board of Commissioners.
Woodall And Crowe On Roundabouts
Public Works Director Woodall said roundabouts became popular in the U.S. in the early 1990s, and in 2010 the Georgia Department of Transportation changed its policy “where any time you are looking at an intersection, a roundabout has to be considered.”
|Woodall Outlined Plans For Roundabouts|
By 2013, Woodall said, more than 40 roundabouts exited on state routes, and more than 160 were on local roads in the state. The number has gone up steadily since, Woodall said.
Roundabouts reduce the conflict points of the intersection from 32 to 8, Woodall said.
As a result, “the number of accidents--severe accidents--has decreased dramatically,” Woodall said. “And that’s the biggest reason why they are considered. They are safe.”
Woodall noted that “All the traffic is counterclockwise, and, as you exit, all the turns are right turns. It is a right turn to enter, and a right turn to exit.”
GDOT representative Crowe said roundabouts reduce fatal crashes up to 90 percent, injury crashes by 76 percent, and crashes involving pedestrians by 30 to 40 percent.
“Angle collisions are by far the worst,” Crowe told the audience of more than 40 at the Civic Center. Roundabout make them less likely.
Woodall said Oconee County residents wishing to experience a roundabout could use the one on SR 81 in Walton County, on SR 98 in Daniellsville in Madison county, or at Milledge Avenue and White Hall Road in Athens-Clarke County.
Oconee County has plans for three roundabouts on Malcom Bridge Road.
Woodall said relocation work on the Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road roundabout is underway and construction will begin in the next few weeks. Construction is scheduled to be finished by the end of October.
Plans are not firm on the roundabouts planned for the bus and parent entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.
The county Board of Education has refused to grant rights of way and easements on school property for these roundabouts, forcing the county to redesign them so they can be built without using school land.
Board of Education members have argued that the current intersections are not a problem and the county should not introduce a traffic design new to the county at the school entrances.
All five members of the Board of Education were in attendance at the Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, though none of them asked a question or responded publicly to the discussion.
The first question, following Woodall’s and Crowe’s comments, was posed by former Oconee State Bank President Amry Harden, 1100 Briar Lakes Court, off Mars Hill Road, who wanted to know if the county had done a cost analysis of a roundabout versus a signalized intersection.
|Commissioners Thomas, Wilkes, Horton, Daniell And Saxon|
Commission Chair Daniell said it will cost close to $1 million for the signalized improvement to the intersection of Mars Hill Road, Virgil Langford Road and Rocky Branch Road if some of the work the county already has done on the site in included.
Daniell said the two intersections are not fully comparable, but the county will spend $1.2 million for the roundabout at Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road.
The roundabout will be cheaper in terms of maintenance and operation because there is no traffic light, he said.
Dan Matthews, city councilman from Watkinsville, wanted to know if Jimmy Daniell Road would be included in that roundabout at Mars Hill Road and Virgil Langford.
Daniell said it would not.
Time Line Questioned
Jeff Hood, 1031 Julian Court, asked for a clarification of the time line for the roundabout at Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road, given its proximity to Malcom Bridge Elementary and Malcom Bridge Middle School.
|Hood Asked For Time Line|
Julian Court is off Julian Drive, which intersects with Mars Hill Road.
“It is not really feasible to do all of our construction during the 60 days that school is out,” Daniell said in response. “We feel like this one is still a quarter mile from the school. We’re using a tried and true contractor here, E.R. Snell.”
“They are alert to the times of school going in and out,” Daniell said. “And we’re also going to have our Public Works folks out there monitoring what’s going on.”
“We’re talking about minor delays,” Daniell continued. “It’s not like lane closures are going to be frequent.”
Daniell said county staff “will be communicating with the operations team over at the Board of Education as well.”
Some construction may be done on Saturdays, Daniell said, to minimize the impact on school traffic.
Daniell told questioners that the county is trying to diversify its tax base to rely less on residential property taxes, continues to work to improve Internet access throughout the county, and is gearing up for a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax referendum.
In response to a question on Experiment Station Road construction, Daniell said that funding for the widening of the roadway from Hog Mountain Road to the U.S. 441 bypass has been “taken off the table” and “we hope to have a let of no later than January 2021" for the project.
Tommy Malcom, 2470 Simonton Bridge Road, outside Watkinsville, asked about state assistance with roundabouts, and Daniell said the county has received a $300,000 grant from the state to help with the funding of the roundabout at the bus entrance on Malcom Bridge Road.
Responding to Rick Garrett, 1050 Planters Trail, in the west of the county, Daniell said the county is working with GDOT to address traffic problems on Hog Mountain Road near North Oconee High School.
Daniell said the county is considering closing the intersection of Cole Spring Road and Hog Mountain Road to reduce the number of intersections in the area.
“If you take Union Church Road, all the way to Butler’s Crossing, we need several improvements through there, and it’s not extremely obvious how to do that,” Daniell said. “You can’t put a roundabout everywhere. And we’re not meeting warrants for traffic signals.”
The state requires the county to establish a traffic count before it will provide a warrant allowing a traffic signal on a state route.
In response to another question from Matthews, Daniell said the county has “done everything it can to keep within the city limits” in finding a location for a new Administrative Building.
“We could actually go very far outside the city limits in a different area and purchase property for a lot cheaper than what we purchased it for,” he said. “We’ve been very cognizant throughout time of being as close to Watkinsville or downtown Watkinsville as we could.
“That’s one reason this piece of property was attractive is because of its proximity to the city limits so it could be annexed at some time,” Daniell said.
The county has purchased a 7.63-acre tract just outside the northern boundary of Watkinsville on U.S. 441 for an Administrative Building that also will house a new Oconee County Library.
Daniell said the county will ask the city to annex the property. “We do want to be in the city limits,” he said.
Daniell also said the Oconee County Library will be located in the Administrative Building initially but “there is enough room on the property for the Library to have a separate building in the future” and the space initially occupied by the Library then will be available for county administrative needs.
Butler’s Crossing And Ray’s Corner
Nancy Floyd, 1890 Hog Mountain Road, asked the commissioners about plans for improvement to Hog Mountain Road from Butler’s Crossing to Ray’s Corner.
“The traffic is very bad in the morning,” Floyd said. “You can’t get out of your driveway. It’s that way in the morning, and it’s that way in the afternoon. Traffic is really, really bad.”
Daniell said the county is looking at the corridor. The goal is to widen the lanes and get sidewalks and bike lanes along the road.
“That’s on our wish list,” he said, and the county is trying to get state and federal funding for the project.
School Board And Commission
Vickie Hammond, 1210 Clotfelter Road, in the west of the county, stood up at the end of the meeting and said “I want to say something.”
|Hammond Asked For Cooperation|
She directed her comment to the Board of Education and to the Board of Commissioners.
“I just wish you would all work together,” she said. “Because we’re all here for the same people, from the oldest person down to the youngest one in the county....I wish that we’d all work together.”
Daniell said there had been a lot of communication between the two boards on sewer policy all during 2016, and the county and the school system worked together on facility use.
“I don’t know any relationship that couldn’t use better communication,” Daniell said. “So we’re aware of that.
“You can either curse the darkness or light a candle,” he said. “We’re going to keep lighting a candle until we get it figured out.
“We’re not always going to agree on what the correct path is for sure,” Daniell said, “but communication is going to be important.”
I counted 50 persons in the room for the meeting, including Commissioners Mark Thomas, William "Bubber" Wilkes, Chuck Horton, Daniell, Mark Saxon, Woodall and Crowe, and County Clerk Kathy Hayes, all sitting at the table at the front of the room.
Many county staff, many of whom live in the county, were in the audience.
The video below is of the Town Hall meeting.
I shot video of the lobby of the Civic Center and of the tables displaying toy cars and roundabouts before the meeting began.
The start of the meeting is at 0:34 in the video below.
Woodall began his comments at 1: 34.
Crowe began speaking at 4:20.
Daniell opened the floor up for questions at 9:18.