The Georgia Department of Transportation has decided to move forward with the planned widening of U.S. 441 to four lanes along the existing route from Madison to Bishop.
It also is proceeding with plans for a truck bypass of Bishop, calling it the “more appealing alternative for localized traffic in the area.”
The announcement of a decision on the widening of U.S. 441 from Madison to Bishop and of the bypass of Bishop to link up to the U.S. 441 bypass of Watkinsville came in a letter dated Aug. 26 but sent to those who had made comments on the roadway design only today (Monday).
The 10-page letter from Eric Duff, state environmental administrator with GDOT, said that 270 people attended the Open Houses that GDOT held in Morgan and Oconee Counties last March and that GDOT received 180 formal comments.
The level of support for the proposal varied by roadway segment, the GDOT letter states.
The widening of U.S. 441 to four lanes along the existing route received more comments in support than in opposition, according to Duff’s letter.
The proposed two-lane truck bypass on the east side of Bishop received support from 36 persons and conditional support from another 19 persons. Sixty-eight comments were in opposition to the plan, Duff wrote, and 1 person did not commit.
Duff’s letter provides responses to the 180 comments, grouped into categories.
|Bypass Draft Design|
"I am concerned about the proximity of the bypass to the UGA Equestrian Facility,” one of the comments states, according to Duff’s letter.
“GDOT recognizes concerns regarding safety, proximity, and property impacts to the Women's Equestrian Program facility located adjacent to the proposed localized bypass corridor that may result from project implementation,” Duff’s letter states.
“GDOT is committed to understanding, minimizing, and mitigating potential impacts that could result from this transportation investment,” the letter continues.
“Please note that the GDOT is still evaluating the design and impacts of the proposed localized bypass,” the letter states.
That refrain about GDOT “still evaluating the design and impacts” of the bypass appears numerous times in the letter.
Lanes Needed For Bypass
"The bypass needs to be 4-lanes,” one comment referenced by Duff stated.
“GDOT has proposed a two-lane bypass of the town of Bishop to reduce project costs, environmental impacts, and right-of-way impacts associated with a four-lane bypass, while also maintaining two travel lanes through the town of Bishop,” Duff’s letter states.
“Together, these four lanes would meet the requirements set forth in the GRIP, while meeting and/or exceeding current and future traffic needs,” according to the letter.
GRIP stands for Governor's Road Improvement Program.
The widening of U.S. 441 is part of the Governor's Road Improvement Program, a system of economic development highways. The purpose of the GRIP system is to provide connectivity to rural Georgia and opportunity for economic growth.
Different Location Of Bypass
"I don't support the currently proposed alignment of the bypass,” one comment said, according to Duff’s letter. “I would prefer the alignment to begin south and east of Bishop."
“The currently proposed alignment for the bypass around the town of Bishop was developed from previous public involvement efforts including input from the Citizen Advisory Committee with an aim to minimize impacts to local property owners and environmental resources,” Duff wrote.
“Increases in the length of the Bypass (by changing proposed termini to be farther south and east of Bishop) would increase proposed project costs, right-of-way impacts, and displacements of businesses and/or residences,” Duff’s letter states.
“However, as previously stated, the GDOT is still evaluating the design and impacts of the proposed localized bypass,” the letter states.
Trucks And Bishop
One of the comments submitted to GDOT said: “Please make it mandatory for 18 wheelers/trucks to take the proposed bypass.”
Duff’s letter states that “U.S. 441 through Bishop is a State Route and will remain a State Route with the implementation of the proposed localized bypass.
“GDOT is therefore unable to restrict truck traffic from using this route,” the letter continues.
“Instead, GDOT is considering measures, like speed reductions within the town of Bishop, that will make the localized bypass the more appealing alternative for truck traffic in this area.”
The U.S. 441 “widening improvements south of the town of Bishop will move forward as shown to the public. However, the GDOT is still evaluating the design and impacts of the proposed localized bypass,” the letter states.
Numerous comments referenced by the Duff letter deal with citizen opposition to or concerns about roundabouts.
At present, the plans call for the construction of roundabouts at both the northern and southern ends of the truck bypass.
“Roundabouts can be an effective tool for managing traffic speed,” Duff wrote.
“The proposed roundabouts located on U.S. 441 at each entrance to the town of Bishop will help traffic transition from a high speed to a low speed environment,” the letter continues.
“Roundabouts have been shown to provide a number of safety, operational, congestion, and other benefits when compared to other intersection types,” Duff’s letter states.
“Specifically, roundabouts have fewer conflict points compared to conventional at-grade intersections, lower speeds, and have been found to reduce crashes, crash severity, traffic delays, fuel consumption and air pollution,” according to the letter.
“Preventing the need for a full stop when traffic allows will mitigate congestion in the area and provide a more free flowing road network,” the letter states.
“All roundabouts within the proposed project have been designed to accommodate large trucks,” Duff’s letter states.
Safety Of Design
In response to a comment about the accidents on the current roadway, Duff wrote that “A four-lane roadway would allow trucks and other vehicles to safely pass slower-moving and right-turning traffic.
“In addition to increased capacity, divided highways provide substantial improvements to traffic flow and safety to the traveling public by separating opposing traffic,” the letter continues.
“Medians are one of the most effective ways to separate two-way traffic on busy roadways by reducing turning conflicts,” the letter states.
“Furthermore, the proposed design would also provide corrections to sight distance issues along the corridor where possible," according to the letter.
"Ensure that the proposed new bridges are not built at the same time, or allow for traffic to continue during construction,” one comment referenced in Duff’s letter states.
“GDOT currently plans for all new bridge construction to take place while maintaining existing traffic flows,” the letter from Duff states.
“Once construction of the proposed bridges is complete, traffic would be shifted onto the new bridges while the existing bridges are demolished and replaced with new bridges,” according to the letter.
“Traffic would be allowed to continue flowing during bridge construction,” the letter states.
Distribution Of Letter
I received a copy of Duff’s letter via an email sent at 2:03 p.m. today.
Following the two meetings in March, I asked for a count of those who attended and was told total of 269 people attended the two Open House meetings.
That number included 195 at the Open House at Oconee Veterans Park and 74 at the Open House in Madison.
The count of 270 in Duff’s letter adds an additional person at one or the other of those meetings.
Duff wrote that 44 of the comments were in favor of the widening of U.S. 441 from the Apalachee River to the Watkinsville Bypass in Oconee County, 21 expressed conditional support, 30 were opposed, and six were uncommitted,
The widening of U.S. 441 from the Madison Bypass to north of the Apalachee River in Morgan County received support from 47 persons, another 15 provided conditional support, 21 were opposed, and 11 were uncommitted, according to Duff’s letter.