Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Georgia Transportation Department Planning Public Outreach On SR 316 Intersection Upgrades

***Dates Not Yet Set***

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning meetings both with local officials and with the public this spring to discuss interchange improvements along SR 316 in Oconee County.

Details of these meetings, which remain incomplete, were first announced by SueAnne Decker, District preconstruction engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) at a MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee meeting on Oct. 27.

Decker said at that meeting that GDOT wants to “discuss overpasses and interchanges and get any buy in, on the direction that we're going.”

Decker said the plan is to begin with local officials and then shift to the public at large, and she described the initiative as “public outreach” for the SR 316 projects.

So far the only controversy on the nine proposed interchanges in Oconee County has surrounded Dials Mill Extension, Dials Mill Road, and McNutt Creek Road.

Homeowners near the Dials Mill Road interchange have expressed opposition to a full interchange there, where state Transportation Board Member Jamie Boswell is listing a large number of undeveloped properties through his commercial real estate firm. The Transportation Board oversees GDOT.

Bogart officials have said a McNutt Creek Road full interchange would provide a direct connection to the city center, but they can accept a Dials Mill Road full interchange as a second option.

Oconee County actually purchased options on land for an interchange between McNutt Creek Road and Dials Mill Road for access to Bogart back in 1997, shortly after SR 316 was built, but GDOT rejected those plans, and the county has developed the land into an industrial park.

SR 316 Transformation

GDOT released plans for what it is calling “Transforming State Route 316" in December of 2020.

Labeled Map To Show Three Interchanges
(Click To Enlarge)

As part of that upgrade, GDOT listed 31 interchange projects, including nine in Oconee County.

While many of the projects in Gwinnett and Barrow counties are completed or are underway, actual construction work on the nine interchanges in Oconee County has not begun.

Decker is one of the GDOT representatives to the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee. The Committee gives members a chance to provide updates at its monthly meetings.

MACORTS stands for Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study and is the metropolitan transportation planning organization for this region mandated by federal transportation law.

“I guess the newest update that we have is we're working on a public outreach for all of 316, presenting it as a corridor,” Decker said at that Oct. 27 meeting.

The purpose of the outreach, she said, was to “get any buy in on the direction that we're going. That's something that we're working to put together right now.”

I followed up with an email with Katina Lear, assistant director of Strategic Communications at GDOT, who told me on Oct. 28 that “The Department at this point in time plans on going out to the local officials and members of the public in the Spring of 2022.”

Project Updates: County Line to U.S. 78

The western most SR 316 interchange project in the county is at Dials Mill Extension, where preliminary engineering was programmed for last year, right of way acquisition is scheduled for 2023, and construction is scheduled for 2024.

Design details have not been released, but cost of construction is estimated at $15.0 million, which county officials have said is the cost of a flyover.

The next project, moving east, is at Dials Mill Road, where preliminary engineering was in 2021, right of way acquisition is in 2023, and construction is in 2025, at a cost of $33.4 million, or the cost of a full interchange.

At McNutt Creek, the third project, preliminary engineering is scheduled for 2022, with right of way acquisition in 2026, and construction in 2027. Construction cost is $15.4 million

At Mars Hill Road, preliminary engineering is set for 2023, with right of way in 2025, and construction in 2027. Construction costs are estimated at $11.9 million.

Mars Hill Road intersects with McNutt Creek Road after it crosses SR 316, and McNutt Creek Road then becomes South Burson Avenue, the major north-south road crossing through Bogart.

Dials Mill Road intersects with the Atlanta Highway east of the city, while Dials Mill Extension intersects with Craft Road, which connects to Atlanta Highway, in Barrow County. Atlanta Highway runs through Bogart.

Project Updates: U.S. 78 To SR 10 Loop

Preliminary engineering for the Julian Drive intersection is scheduled for 2024, with right of way acquisition in 2026 and construction set for 2028. The cost estimate is $12.5 million.

GDOT has bundled the intersection improvements for Jimmy Daniell Road, Virgil Langford Road, and the Oconee Connector.

A full interchange is planned for Jimmy Daniell Road and for the Oconee Connector, with a flyover planned for Virgil Langford Road.

Preliminary engineering is scheduled to begin in 2022 for the bundle, right of way acquisition begins in 2023, and construction begins in 2024. Total construction cost is listed as $68.7 million.

The final SR 316 Transformation project is for improvements to the interchange of SR 316 and SR Loop 10, with preliminary engineering not scheduled until 2030 and construction at $9.9 million scheduled for 2032.

Dials Mill Plantation

Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, has spoken to the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee and twice to the Board of Commissioners regarding concerns homeowners have for the Dials Mill Road intersection.

“A full interchange at Dials Mill Road is very concerning to us because our subdivision sits very close to the intersection of Dial Mill Road and 316,” Thelen said at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 7 of last year.

Thelen has questioned why that intersection has been chosen for a full interchange rather than Dials Mill Extension or McNutt Creek Road.

Dials Mill Plantation is separated from SR 316 by a narrow, eight acre parcel, owned by Anderson-Wells II LLC of Watkinsville.

William L. Ulm Sr. is the registered agent for the LLC, and the property is being listed for sale by the Boswell Group of Athens.

Dials Mill Extension also has some homes near the intersection, but they are not clustered in a subdivision.

The same is the case at McNutt Creek Road.

Daniell On Interchange

At a Town Hall meeting in March of 2021, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell gave an overview of the proposed intersection projects along SR 316.

Most of his attention was directed toward the Jimmy Daniell Road, Virgil Langford Road, Oconee Connector bundle.

“So there's going to be a lot of activity in that section of the 316,” he said. ‘It's going to be kind of tough, when they're working on different sections there as well, getting through,” he added.

He also noted that work would be starting about the same time on Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension.

Referring to GDOT, he said “They haven't quite figured out how that's going to be configured.”

It could be a flyover and interchange, he said, but “they might be able to do something a little different.”

Bogart Access

Bogart Mayor Janet Jones told me that Council Member John Larkin was handling the city’s interactions with GDOT regarding the SR 316 improvements.

Larkin told me in a telephone conversation on Oct. 25 that he had been talking with GDOT officials in August or September and had followed that up with letters regarding the intersection improvements to Boswell from the Transportation Board and state Rep. Houston Gaines .

In both letters, Larkin said that not having a full interchange providing easy access to Bogart “will cause a major disruption” to the city.

Larkin said “the most direct route to our town will be to have an intersection at McNutt Creek (Road) to allow a straight path to the heart of the City.”

“The next best option is to have an interchange at Dials Mill Road,” he wrote.

In both letters, Larkin asked that the message be relayed to Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry. Larkin said in an email message to me on Oct. 25 that he believed Gaines had forwarded the letter “to the appropriate parties at GDOT.”

Six of the nine intersection improvements on SR 316 fall in Gaines’ District. Part of the Dials Mill Extension and the Oconee Connector and SR Loop 10 intersections are in the District represented by Marcus Wiedower.

Larkin also said in our telephone conversation that he thinks GDOT should retain the current exit from SR 316 traveling west onto Mars Hill Road, which is east of McNutt Creek Road, though he does not feel that should be a full intersection.

Earlier Plans

County Attorney Daniel Haygood told me in an email exchange on Oct. 26 and Nov. 3 that the county put contracts for purchase on four pieces of property with frontage on SR 316 on Jan. 6, 1997.

The properties lie between McNutt Creek Road and Dials Mill Road, and the county planned to turn the property over to the state for an interchange that would provide access to Bogart.

One of the properties abuts McNutt Creek Road, where the county now has a Fire Station. Another fronts on Aiken Road, just ease of that road’s intersection with McNutt Creek Road.

The county closed on the properties on Jan. 18, 2000, and then learned that the state would not use them for an interchange, according to Haygood. GDOT never took ownership of the properties, Haygood said.

The county subsequently turned the tracts over to the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, which has developed them into the Gateway Technology and Business Park.

At the time the other four parcels were purchased, the county tried to purchase from David and Nancy Shadley an additional parcel lying between the parcels purchased.

Haygood said the county was prepared to use condemnation to acquire the property for the intersection but did not do so because the state did not build the intersection.

The Shadleys sold that property to Ulm on Nov. 3, 2006, according to county tax records. Ulm now holds the property under the Anderson-Wells LLC name. (County tax records mistakenly list the size of the property as 1 acre in size when it clearly is much larger.)

(ADDENDUM: Allen Skinner, chief appraiser for the county, told me in an email message on 1/5/2022 that the parcel is split into two parts in the tax records because only 1 acre is in the unincorporated part of the county, with the remainder in Bogart. Since the tax rate is different for the two parcels, the electronic version of the records on qpublic do not show both. The entire tract is 28.9 acres, Skinner said, with a current assessed value of $716,569. A smaller parcel of 0.5 acres adjoins the larger parcel and is valued at $7,685.)

The Industrial Development Authority has tried to purchase the Ulm property for the Gateway Technology and Business Park without success.

Boswell Properties

Transportation Board Member Boswell is listing what the Boswell Properties web site calls “+/- 92 Acres in 9 Total Tracts. Located along Highway 316, Dials Mill Road and Aiken Road.”

The Boswell web listing shows five of those parcels, all owned by Andersen-Wells II LLC, according to tax records, with a total acreage of 40.8. The listed price is $125,000 per acre.

Included is the 8.5 acres abutting Dials Mill Plantation. Four of the five parcels have frontage on Dials Mill Road.

Oconee County tax records list another six parcels owned by Andersen-Wells II LLC near Dials Mill Road, including the large parcel that sits between the properties that make up the county’s Gateway Technology and Business Park.

The Boswell web site does not explain which of those properties are included in the nine listed for sale for a total of approximately 92 acres.

Intersection Questioned

The decision to build a full interchange at Dials Mill Road was questioned back in 2017 when it came up at a meeting of MACORTS.

GDOT had asked MACORTS to modify its planning documents to include funding for the project, and then Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara said this “is a very strange addition.”

“I’ve never been in any meeting when an Oconee County representative requested the prioritization of this particular project,” Beshara said.

“Sometimes we don’t know where these additions come from,” Sherry McDuffie, MACORTS planner, said in response to Beshara. “They just show up on the list” from GDOT.”

Darius Malone, representing GDOT Planning at the 2017 MACORTS meeting, confirmed the GDOT interest in the project but gave no explanation for the request that it be moved up the list for MACORTS allocation of federal funding.

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