Monday, May 30, 2022

Questions About Planned Roundabouts At Jimmy Daniell Road/SR 316 Interchange Dominate GDOT Virtual Public Information Open House

***Noise Barriers, Meriweather Drive Also Topics***

A team from the Georgia Department of Transportation responded to exactly 50 questions from citizens regarding the planned upgrade for the Jimmy Daniell Road and SR 316 interchange in a two-hour virtual session on May 26.

Many of the questions focused on the planned roundabouts at each of the exits from SR 316 to Jimmy Daniell Road, which will fly over SR 316 in the planned multi-grade intersection.

Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) officials said the two-roundabout diamond interchange design is just now being incorporated into the SR 316 Transformation project, but it is in place elsewhere in the state.

The team said that construction on the project is expected to start in 2024 and be substantially completed in 2027, that traffic will continue to flow through the intersection during construction, and that only one home, presently unoccupied, will be removed for the project.

Jimmy Daniell Road will not be widened outside the intersection as part of the state project, and no traffic signal is planned for the Jimmy Daniell Road intersection with Meriweather Road, the team said.

A lane will be added on each side of SR 316 between Jimmy Daniell Road and the Oconee Connector, the GDOT officials said. Noise barriers will be considered in the environmental assessment part of the project, but no commitment to them exists at present.

The Jimmy Daniell Road intersection is part of a “bundle” that includes a flyover at Virgil Langford Road and a multigrade intersection at the Oconee Connector. No roundabouts are planned at present for the Oconee Connector intersection, the officials said.

The meeting moderator also announced that another virtual meeting will be held on June 16 for the Virgil Langford Road and Oconee Connector part of the “bundle.”

ADDENDUM: In an email on 6/6/2022, Moderator Kyle Collins said that the comment period will begin on June 16 and the live session will be on June 22. (SueAnne Decker from GDOT said on 6/8/2022 that the June 22 meeting will be from 4 to 6 p.m.) 

Other Intersections

While the Virtual Presentation and Q&A part of a Public Information Open House was focused exclusively on the Jimmy Daniell Road intersection, participants asked about Julian Drive, Virgil Langford Road, and the Oconee Connector.

Collins

The GDOT team said the plans for Julian Drive remain incomplete and will be covered at some future session.

The team also deferred most of the questions about Virgil Langford Road and the Connector to the June 16 Public Information Open House.

Those two intersections, as well as those at Jimmy Daniell Road and Mars Hill Road, had been before the Metropolitan Planning Organization MACORTS on May 25.

A GDOT official said at that meeting that funding for all four of the intersections will come from the federal government, necessitating changes in the planning documents of MACORTS.

Dials Mill Road Interchange

Also at that MACORTS meeting on Wednesday, Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, asked MACORTS “to do what it can to facilitate a positive resolution” to the concerns of homeowners in the subdivision about plans for the SR 316 interchange at Dials Mill Road.

Internal documents show that GDOT officials have approved plans for a full interchange at Dials Mill Road, and Thelen said those plans would take land from homeowners and affect “the quality of our neighborhood.”

Oconee County had proposed an alternative design to GDOT, but that design was not accepted as the top option by GDOT, the internal documents show.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said in an email to me after Thelen spoke that “We will continue to communicate with GDOT on the project.”

Public Information Open House

GDOT announced on May 17 that it would be making a presentation and taking questions as part of its Virtual Public Information Open House from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday. 

The stated purpose of the session was “to share project information” and give citizens “an opportunity to provide comments on any aspect of the Georgia DOT project.”

Citizens have until June 10 to submit comments, and a form is available on the web for that purpose.

The carefully choreographed session on May 26 began with an introduction of the procedures to be followed in the session and then a nearly eight-minute-long video by Achor Njoku Sr., project manager at GDOT for the SR 316 and Jimmy Daniell intersection project.

Following the video, Kyle Collins, Communications and Marketing Strategist for GDOT, serving as moderator, opened up the session to questions, which were submitted by using the chat function of Microsoft Teams.

Collins read the questions submitted and passed them to Marlo Clowers, Alternative Delivery Program Manager at GDOT.

Clowers then called on a panel of five other “designated subject matter experts” to assist her in responding to the questions asked.

Summary Of Video

In the video, Njoku said the design for the Jimmy Daniell and SR 316 interchange calls for a single-lane roundabout at each end of a diamond. Traffic leaving SR 316 traveling both east and west will enter a roundabout as they approach Jimmy Daniell Road.

Jimmy Daniell Road/SR 316 Design
Click To Enlarge

The improvements are designed to address high crash rates and congestion, Njoku said.

Between 2015 and 2019, Njoku said, the intersection had 118 crashes, and the level of service is C in the a.m. peak hour and D in the p.m. peak hour.

If nothing is done, “we can expect these already existing challenges to worsen in future years,” Njoku said. Both volume of traffic and the number of crashes will increase, he added.

The length of the project is 1.2 miles, Njoku said, and the roadway will be open to traffic in 2028, though “substantial completion” will be in 2027.

In the fourth quarter of 2023, GDOT will select a design build team, and construction is scheduled to start in 2024, he said.

The environmental review process is underway, Njoku said, and will be completed in 2023.

Njoku encouraged participants to submit comments and said GDOT will post a letter in July responding “to all comments.”

First Two Questions

Before taking questions, Communications and Marketing Strategist Collins told those who joined the virtual session that the plans before them were not final but rather were “subject to change.”

The first question asked was whether the intersection will be closed during construction.

Clowers

“Traffic will be maintained through the intersection during construction until construction is completed, and then it will be shifted over to the new interchange,” Ben Clopper, a GDOT consultant, answered.

The second questioner wanted to know if access to Julian Drive will be affected by the construction.

Clowers said she thought Julian Drive would not be affected, and Clopper confirmed that, while improvements are planned for the future, changes to Julian drive are “outside the limits of this project.”

Although one page on the GDOT web site lists preliminary engineering for the Julian Drive interchange in 2024, right of way acquisition in 2026, and construction in 2028, the cover page for the Transforming SR 316 project page lists all three of these dates as To Be Determined.

County officials have said that, given the cost estimates for the Julian Drive interchange, the most likely design is a flyover, rather than a full interchange.

Roundabouts

The third question in the May 26 virtual meeting was about the two planned roundabouts.

“Is this style of intersection unique to SR 316 or are there other examples of this elsewhere on this 40 mile highway?” the questioner asked.

“There are other diamond style interchanges being installed along the 316 corridor right now,” Jonathan Langley, a GDOT engineering consultant, said, “however this will be the first interchange to have roundabouts at the top of the ramps.

“There are other interchange projects on 316 exploring similar types of roundabouts on those projects,” he continued.

“The difference is, as you exit the ramp and leave 316, is a roundabout instead of a traffic signal,” he said.

Barrow Bundle

The intersections at Jimmy Daniell Road, Virgil Langford Road, and the Oconee Connector are what GDOT is calling the Design Build Bundle 2.

Barber Creek Road/SR 316 Design
Click To Enlarge

Design Build Bundle 1 is for the last two intersections on SR 316 in Barrow County as SR 316 approaches Oconee County.

The more western of these intersections is at SR 211 (Bethlehem Road), which also has roundabouts at both exits and has a construction beginning date of 2023, or a year head of the Jimmy Daniell Road intersection.

Also in the bundle, with the 2023 construction start date, is the Barber Creek Road intersection with SR 316.

The plans for that interchange do not include roundabouts at the end of its exits.

The Barber Creek Road project is important for Oconee County because it involves a rerouting of Craft Road north of SR 316 to connect to Barber Creek Road and Eighth Street in Statham and a closure of Craft Road south of SR 316 ending in a cul de sac.

Craft Road currently intersects with Crowe Road/Dials Mill Extension. Dials Mill Extension also crosses SR 316 before connecting to Dials Mill Road in Oconee County.

More On Roundabouts

Eleven of the remaining questions in the May 26 session also asked about roundabouts, and Collins brought roundabouts up when he used unfilled time to repeat questions. (He also reran the video from Njoku.)

Langley

At the very end of the meeting, Collins asked Clowers to explain why roundabouts, rather than a traffic light or a stop sign, was being proposed.

Clowers passed the question to Langley.

Langley gave a long response, most of which is below.

“One of the first things we do is we look at all of the options that could be considered,” Langley said.

“And when we do that, we want to consider a number of different variables. We want to think about the environment. We want to think about the safety of the people who are traveling in the corridor. We want to think about how it changes the access for people who are traveling in this area,” he said.

“We want to think about congestion and a thing called mobility, which is just people moving around within the corridor. We want to think about the impact, the impacts that it has to property, to any of the streams, or any other environmental considerations,” Langley said.

Decision Explained

“So that means one of the things we look at is what’s going to perform best at the top of these ramps,” Langley said.

Visualization Jimmy Daniell Road/SR 316 Interchange
Click to Enlarge (Full Video Is Below)

“Is a roundabout going to perform best? Will a traffic signal perform best? Will a simple stop sign with a four way stop be the best alternative?” Langley asked.

“So we look at all of those different factors and get an analysis together that answers that question before we come to you at this stage to propose what we then will move forward with,” Langley said.

“We still are part of the way through the process,” he continued. “This design is not complete yet.

“But we feel like we’ve done enough analysis to come to you and say that this is a viable alternative that shows the least amount of impact for the most benefit also balancing out cost and some of the other things we’ve spoken about,” Langley said.

Langley said the signalized and roundabout intersections would cost about the same amount.

Sound Barriers

Two questioners asked about sound barriers, and Clowers directed the questions to Amber Phillips, Assistant State Environmental Administrator in the Office of Environmental Services at GDOT.

Phillips

“Anywhere where we identify impacts we’ll look at if we can construct noise walls,” Phillips said.

“We do that in two phases,” she said. “Is a noise wall feasible to construct? So that means can we actually physically construct it? There aren’t any utility impacts? There aren’t any sight distance impacts? Things like that. We want to make sure we can construct the walls.

“And then we look at are noise walls reasonable to construct? And that means will they actually reduce the sound that you are hearing from your outdoor area of use, your back yard? Will the noise walls actually work?” Phillips continued.

“And then we do have to look at the costs of noise walls. So, if it meets all those measures, we’ll determine that the noise walls are likely to construct,” she said.

“We’ll do a finalized vote to determine if they’re actually desired by those citizens that are going to be protected,” she said.

Meriweather Road

Many questioners were concerned about the impact of the project on Meriweather Road, which runs through the Jennings Mill community.

Clowers said GDOT does not “anticipate any increase in through traffic on Meriweather Drive” as a result of the new SR 316 intersection.

“Meriweather Drive will remain in its current condition,” Langley told one of the questioners.

GDOT consultant Clopper said the new Jimmy Daniell Road will drop to meet the old Jimmy Daniell Road after it flies over SR 316 “about at the intersection with Meriweather Drive.”

The roundabout on the north side of SR 316 “will be essentially up in the air from where the existing ground is right now and where the road is,” Clopper said.

“We’ll be coming down from the bridge at a grade of about 6 percent, which is allowable for the type of road that Jimmy Daniell is,” he explained.

“And that will continue down through the roundabout until it meets back to where the existing road is at around Meriweather Drive,” he said.

The roundabout will be about 800 feet from Meriweather Drive, he said.

No improvements to the Meriweather Drive and Jimmy Daniell Road intersection are part of the GDOT project, Clowers said.

Right Of Way And Environmental Concerns

Phil Copeland, a GDOT right of way consultant, said GDOT will require rights of way on St. Andrews and Millers Lake Drive but it will not need to purchase any homes.

He cautioned that this determination was preliminary. Right of way acquisition is not scheduled until 2023.

No right of way will be needed on Grey Drive, he said.

Only one home, currently unoccupied and north of SR 316, will need to be acquired, he said.

Clopper said that roughly 220,000 cubic yards of earthwork is needed for the project and the contractor probably will need to bring dirt onto the project to create the needed elevation.

“No construction activity will be up near the ponds,” Clopper said.

Phillips said GDOT will attempt to avoid impact on the creek at the end of Jimmy Daniell Road, minimize the damage if any will be necessary, and mitigate damage if necessary.

She said GDOT is expecting it will need a federal water permit and expects to do mitigation.

Langley said tree clearing will be needed about 400 feel from the roundabout on the north side of SR 316 and 600 feet on the south side.

Odds And Ends

Clowers said that a completed interchange with roundabouts similar to what is being proposed for Jimmy Daniell Road already is in use at I-75 and Carbondale Road south of Dalton.

Clopper

“We don’t think that this interchange will increase the volume of traffic on Jimmy Daniell Road,” Clopper said. “The focus of the project is more about separating out the Jimmy Daniell Road and SR 316 traffic where they cross.”

Clopper said the descent from the overpass could increase the speed of traffic, but the roundabout should “calm” the traffic to 25 mph.

“At present, the design of the interchange at the Oconee Connector does not include roundabouts,” Clopper said.

“I believe that is a factor related to the amount of traffic through that interchange,” he added. “But that question would need to be answered by the design team for that project. That can be done as part of the PIOH that is coming up for that next month.”

Moderator Collins said the live Public Information Open House will be on June 16, but he did not give the times of the session.

Clowers told one person who asked about the plans for the Virgil Langford Road intersection with SR 316 that she did not know what kind of interchange was being planned and referred the questioner to the Public Information Open House in June.

MACORTS Meeting

Both the Technical Coordinating Committee and the Policy Committee of MACORTS have approved a request from GDOT that MACORTS documents be changed to include newly allocated federal funding for the Virgil Langford Road and Oconee Connector intersection improvements.

MACORTS stands for Madison Athens Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study. MACORTS is the federally-mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the area.

The documents before MACORTS show that Virgil Langford Road will fly over SR 316 via a bridge, while the other two roads will have full interchanges.

The Technical Coordinating Committee called for public hearings on the proposed changes in March and the Policy Committee approved that action in April.

Both went out for public comment, and at its meeting on May 25, the Technical Coordinating Committee reported receiving no public comment on the changes and recommended to the Policy Committee that it make the changes in the documents.

Final action by the Policy Committee will be taken on June 8.

New Changes Requested

At the meeting on May 25, Brad Griffin, chair of the Technical Coordinating Committee, reported that he had three new requests from GDOT that also will require public hearings.

MACORTS Documents Mars Hill Road Interchange
Click To Enlarge

These involve increased federal funding for the SR 316 intersections at Jimmy Daniell Road and at Mars Hill Road and for SR 10 Loop at the Atlanta Highway intersection.

“This is information we received from GDOT about a week ago,” Griffin said.

The recommendation for public hearings will go to the Policy Committee on June 8, setting up a comment period for June 20 to July 5.

Materials will be put on the MACORTS web site on June 17, Griffin reported, with instructions for offering comment.

“A lot of these projects were originally programmed with state funding, but due to additional federal funds becoming available, eventually the goal is to be 100 percent federal funded,” Tom Caiafa, GDOT Branch Chief who serves on the MACORTS Technical Coordinating Committee, said at the May 25 meeting.

Griffin said the Mars Hill Road intersection will be grade separated, not a full interchange.

The current GDOT web site lists design for this project in 2023, right of way acquisition in 2026, and the beginning of construction in 2027.

Video

The GDOT leaders had promised that a video of the session would be available on May 31, but I noticed on Saturday it already had been uploaded.

I have embedded a link to that video below.

The pictures of the GDOT team members used above are screen shots from that video.

The pre-recorded video giving a project overview begins at 3:48 in the video below.

The live question and answer begins at 14:36 in the video.

I also have added a project visualization below that was referenced by the experts. I used a screen shot from that visualization above.

I have spelled Jimmy Daniell with the second L throughout this post, though GDOT has dropped the second L in its documents.

The preferred spelling in Oconee County includes the second L, since that is the name of the Daniell family.

Updated Identifications

I updated my identification of Langley, Clopper, and Copeland in the post above. Clowers identified the members of the expert panel only by name in the session. 

I left a comment in chat at the end of the session asking for fuller identification, and I received an email from Michael Blatt on the morning of 5/31/2022 providing that information.

Blatt is a Senior Communications Manager at Arcadis U.S. Inc., an engineering company with offices in Atlanta, where Langley is a Project Manager and Digital Engineering Group Leader. 

Clopper is Roadway Department Manager at Michael Baker International, an engineering company with offices in Atlanta. Copeland is Right-of-Way Lead at HNTB, a transportation firm with offices in Atlanta.

Also appearing in the video is Kumari Duvvuri, Transportation Engineer at Arcadis.

I had been able to find identification for Collins, Clowers, and Phillips on GDOT sites. Njoku is identified in the pre-recorded video.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Jimmy Daniell is misspelled ... only 1 L according to the road signs

Lee Becker said...

I have a policy of not publishing comments without a real name. I made an exception here to elaborate on what I wrote at the bottom of this post, explaining my decision.

Jimmy Daniell Road is spelled that way on the Road Map Of Oconee County, and elsewhere.

The road is named after a member of the Daniell family, as is Daniells Bridge Road. The county owned and preserved Daniell house is off Daniells Bridge Road.

John Daniell, Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair, is a member of the family.

When I have used Jimmy Daniell in posts in the past, a member of the family--not John--has written me and thanked me for spelling the name that way.

As I wrote at the bottom of the post, I chose to spell the name with the second L because I know it is the preferred spelling in the county.

Lee