The MACORTS Technical Coordination Committee has approved modifications to the transportation group’s documents, moving plans forward for a scoping study of a truck bypass linking SR 15 and U.S. 441 south of Watkinsville.
The action now goes to the MACORTS Policy Committee, which meets virtually on Nov. 10, for final action.
Sixty people attended a virtual public meeting or the in-person gathering at Oconee Veterans Park, both in September, MACORTS Planner Sherry McDuffie told the Technical Coordinating Committee at its meeting last week.
McDuffie said she had received 47 written sets of comments, which she labeled as “substantial” for such public hearings.
The comments McDuffie presented showed significant opposition to using Astondale Road for the bypass and to bringing any additional traffic into Bishop, which an Astondale Road bypass would do.
A few respondents said the scoping phase itself was premature and should be denied or deferred, according to the summary released by McDuffie to the Committee. More favored going forward with the study.
If the Policy Committee follows the recommendation of the Technical Coordinating Committee, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will be able to spend $400,000 in federal money matched with $100,000 in state funding on the study in the current fiscal year.
Solicitation Of Feedback
MACORTS is one of 16 federally mandated metropolitan planning organizations in Georgia and has responsibility for planning for federal highway spending in the urbanized parts of Oconee, Clarke, and Madison counties.
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MACORTS is the acronym for Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study
At the August meeting of the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee, McDuffie said that she received email from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) requesting that the scoping study be added to the agenda for the meeting.
McDuffie said at that meeting that scoping studies are usually part of the engineering phase of a project and are not launched independently and she had no explanation for the timing of the GDOT request.
The MACORTS Policy Committee, following the recommendation of the Technical Coordinating Committee, set up the virtual meeting on Sept. 27 and the in-person meeting on Sept. 30.
Citizens were asked to provide feedback on the GDOT request to add the scoping study to the MACORTS FY 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program and its 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
Since GDOT plans to use federal funding for the scoping study, MACORTS must add the scoping study to its transportation planning documents before any work can begin.
Brad Griffin, who chairs the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee, opened the Technical Coordinating Committee meeting on Oct. 27 by asking for citizen comment.
“I just want to make sure everything is looked at,” John Butler said of the scoping study item on the agenda. “All the avenues, different routes. Just choose the lease invasive way. That’s all I want to say.”
“We don’t do this scoping process very often, formally,” Griffin responded, “But that’s what this process intends to get us to.”
When Griffin turned to McDuffie to discuss the scoping study about five minutes later, she said that “GDOT asked us to include this scoping project so that federal funds can be used for it.
“There is no alignment proposed at this time,” she said.
McDuffie said that the federal funding would be shifted from left-over funds in the MACORTS allocation.
“No projects would have to be moved out,” she said.
In an email exchange after the meeting, McDuffie said that MACORTS planners anticipate federal funding through the life of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
The total anticipated amount of federal funding in the current 2045 Plan is $474,184,227, she said, based on figures from GDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
Before the designation of the $400,000 for the scoping study, $1,163,457 was unallocated, she said.
“What we are being asked to consider this morning is to approve the funding so as to allow the consultants to do the work that I think will ultimately address the comments that are in front of us,” Griffin said in calling for a vote on the GDOT request on Oct. 27.
“This is the very, very first step in the process to get funding into the MPO to provide the ability to do the assessment and analysis.” MPO is for Metropolitical Planning Organization, or MACORTS.
The motion to approve the request passed unanimously.
Before the vote, McDuffie had provided the Committee members with a written summary of the comments as well as the original, complete documents.
|Griffin As Comments Presented|
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In her summary, she classified comments separately, meaning that an individual could provide more than one comment.
McDuffie reported five comments saying “The Truck Bypass would remove significant through traffic that has grown and disproportionately impacts the downtown with safety and traffic issues for businesses, citizens, and visitors.”
“Any problem within the city of Watkinsville should be resolved using property within the city of Watkinsville.” McDuffie reported two individuals saying.
“The scoping phase is premature and unjustified,” McDuffie said one person wrote, while another asked: “With this study, will GDOT be unwilling or unable to consider options other than new road construction which, wherever it goes, will prove massively expensive and disruptive to one set of property owners or another?”
“Trucks should be prohibited from using SR 15 and forced over to US 441,” two persons wrote, according to the summary.
“Families and farms outside of Watkinsville should not be required to absorb the City of Watkinsville’s issue onto their rural area,” McDuffie said six people wrote.
McDuffie said eight people wrote “I do not want to see Astondale Road widened or used as a bypass.”
“Bishop is already having traffic issues and does not need more,” nine people wrote, according to McDuffie.
“A truck bypass already exists in the form of I-20 to Madison 441 bypass. Don’t need to create another bypass. Just add additional signage. Be cheaper and have less effects on Oconee Co.” according to two commenters.
Six people wrote “I support the addition of the scoping phase to the MACORTS Plans.”
The video below is taken from the WebEx recording of the MACORTS meeting on Oct. 27.
Chair Griffin launched discussion of the scoping study at 5:54 in the video.