The Georgia Department of Transportation is launching a “scoping study” of a truck route from SR 15 south of Watkinsville to somewhere along U.S. 441.
The scoping study is the first step in beginning the project, which has been discussed but is not currently part of active road plans for the county.
The Transportation Department’s interest in the truck route surfaced on Wednesday at the Technical Coordinating Committee of MACORTS, the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization serving Oconee, Clarke, and Madison counties.
Federal funding will be used on the project, GDOT has indicated, requiring MACORTS to add the project to its transportation planning documents before any work can begin.
The Technical Coordinating Committee recommended the addition of the project to its 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program and its Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
The MACORTS Policy Committee will meet virtually at 10 a.m. on Sept. 8 to take final action on the Department of Transportation request and schedule public hearings, including one from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 at Oconee Veterans Park.
Also at the MACORTS meeting last week, Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, told the members of the Technical Coordinating Committee that she and her neighbors are concerned about plans for an interchange at Dials Mill Road and SR 316.
Thelen said there is not adequate space for a full interchange as proposed given the proximity of the neighborhood.
Sherry McDuffie, a planner with MACORTS, said that she received email from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) requesting that the scoping study be added to the agenda for last Wednesday’s meeting.
|Map Shown At Meeting (Click To Enlarge)|
McDuffie said scoping studies are usually part of the engineering phase of a project and are not launched independently.
“The way it has been explained to me is that this is basically setting up the project and trying to figure out how much money are we (GDOT) going to need to do design,” she said. “How much are we (GDOT) going to need to flesh out the need and purpose for the project?”
“Right now,” she said, “It is literally just a title.”
“They won’t really start talking about alignment until later in the design stage,” she said.
In order for the project to move forward with federal funding, MACORTS has to add the scoping study to its Transportation Improvement Program and to its Metropolitan Transportation Plan and include some funding for the study.
|Screen During Discussion Of Scoping Study|
MACORTS stands for Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study.
Duffie presented two documents to the Technical Coordinating Committee. That Committee is made up of staff from Madison County, Athens-Clarke County, Oconee County, the University of Georgia, GDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration.
One document was a page for inclusion in the Transportation Improvement Program and the other was a page for inclusion in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
The two are nearly identical, with each containing the following project statement:
“This project would construct a connector road between SR 24/US441 and SR 15 south of Watkinsville to enable truck traffic to avoid downtown Watkinsville.”
Estimated cost is listed as unknown, as are the length of the route and the number of lanes existing and planned.
The document lists $500,000 as the cost of the scoping study, with $400,000 of that coming from the federal government and $100,000 from state funds.
The project name is Watkinsville Truck Bypass on the Transportation Improvement Program document and Watkinsville Truck Bypass from SR24/US441 to SR 15 on the Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
The documents place the funding in the current fiscal year, meaning that GDOT will be able to start the scoping project immediately upon approval by MACORTS.
The map attached to the project sheets shows only one road connecting SR 15 (Greensboro Highway) with U.S. 441, and that is Astondale Road.
That route was mentioned frequently during discussions of a bypass of Bishop, and the truck route proposed for and rejected by Bishop would have started at Astondale Road.
Astondale Road intersects U.S. 441 south of Bishop, meaning any truck traffic diverted from SR 15 to keep it out of Watkinsville would go through Bishop unless the Bishop bypass plans are revived.
Astondale Road also borders on the University of Georgia Equestrian facility.
The University objected to the proposed Bishop bypass because of the fear it would adversely affect that facility.
Astondale Road also traverses some of the most productive farmland in the southern part of the county.
Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick, who does not usually attend MACORTS meetings, attended the virtual meeting on Wednesday spoke during the citizen comment section of the meeting.
|Brodrick At Center, Top|
“I just wanted to speak and let the Committee know that Watkinsville is supportive of adding the Watkinsville Truck Bypass to the scoping phase as outlined later in the meeting,” Brodrick said.
“A truck bypass is a key priority for the Watkinsville City Council and absolutely vital to preserving the health and viability of downtown Watkinsville,” Brodrick said.
As the Georgia ports and other developments have continued to grow, Brodrick said, “downtown Watkinsville and Highway 15 have become a preferred route for many of those trucks.”
LAD Trucking also is located in downtown Watkinsville, bringing truck traffic into the heart of the city.
Wire Park with the new Oconee County Library also will add traffic to the main street corridor of the city.
City Manager Sharyn Dickerson also attended the MACORTS meeting, but she did not speak.
Dials Mill Road
Dials Mill Road homeowner Thelen told the members of the Coordinating Committee that “our homeowners will be directly impacted” by the proposed changes to the Dials Mill Road intersection.
|Thelen's Map Of Affected Area|
(Click To Enlarge)
Thelen projected a map on the screen, and she said that the area to the north of SR 316 at Dials Mill Road is largely undeveloped, as is the area around Dials Mill Extension’s intersection with SR 316.
But only a small strip of land is between some of the homes on the south and SR 316, she said.
“Our understanding is that a full interchange is planned for Dials Mill Road at 316,” Thelen said.
“Given the proximity of the Dials Mill subdivision to 316, we’re puzzled as to how an interchange can be created here without dramatically impacting our subdivision,” she said.
“We also wonder if other options for Dials Mill Road at 316 have been fully explored,” she said, “such as a flyover instead of a full interchange, Dials Mill Road running under 316 instead of over it, or an interchange at Dials Mill Extension with Dials Mill Road becoming a cul-de-sac at 316.”
“We'll be working diligently over the next few months to gain as much understanding as possible about the plan for Dials Mill Road at 316, the process by which these plans are developed, and the communications efforts that were exercised,” Thelen said.
“We hope to establish a collaborative relationship with MACORTS and other state and local leaders as we work through this fact-finding process,” she concluded.
Chris Jones from the homeowners group joined Thelen at the session but did not speak.
The plans for the Dials Mill Road interchange have been moved forward with MACORTS at the request of GDOT.
Georgia Transportation Board Member Jamie Boswell is listing property near the interchange through his commercial real estate company Boswell Properties.
The project is scheduled for preliminary engineering this year, right of way acquisition in 2023, and construction in 2024 and 2025.
Current plans are for a flyover at Dials Mill Extension and a full multi-grade intersection at Dials Mill Road.
The MACORTS meeting was virtual and live streamed on WebEx.
Below is a copy of the video of that meeting, given to me by McDuffie.
The image of the speaker often is not visible, but the audio is strong.
Thelen began her comments at 2:57 in the video.
Brodrick began his comments at 6:40 in the video.
McDuffie introduced the GDOT request for the scoping study at 11:55 in the video.