Wednesday, June 15, 2022

GDOT Releases Plans For Oconee Connector/SR 316 Interchange; No Access To Proposed Publix Shopping Center Shown

***Virgil Langford Road Plans Also Released***

The Georgia Department of Transportation released plans for the transformation of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector interchange on Wednesday that do not include access from the Connector to the proposed site of a Publix grocery.

The plans show the Oconee Connector flying over SR 316, as had been expected, but they also show an exit lane to the Oconee Connector for eastbound traffic that reaches far down the Connector, ending in a traffic light.

That light is just north of the existing median break and the cut into property to the east of the Connector, where the old fire house was located. There is no cut into the property where a new Publix was to be built.

Westbound traffic would exit SR 316 after passing under the flyover and also intersect the Connector at a traffic light north of SR 316.

Westbound traffic from the Connector would join SR 316 near the existing Virgil Langford Road.

Under the new configuration, Virgil Langford Road itself would fly over SR 316 and not have any on or off ramps to SR 316.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) released the plans for the two interchanges on Wednesday in advance of a comment period that runs from June 16 to July 13.

A Virtual Presentation and Q and A Session will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on June 22.

Cut To Deferred Tax Parcels

The proposal for the development of large shopping center including a Publix was predicated on access to the Oconee Connector, with a signalized light at the location of the existing median break on the Connector between Daniells Bridge Road and SR 316.

Oconee Connector Plans
(Click To Enlarge)

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners turned down zoning for that request in May of 2021.

Commissioners cited concerns about the impact of the shopping center on the flow of traffic on the Connector and on Mars Hill Road, where additional entrances and exits were proposed.

The 47-acre tract is owned by Maxie Price’s Deferred Tax LLC, and Price has been seeking access to the Connector from his property since at least 2014.

Engineers Overruled

GDOT engineers initially had said the existing median break on the Connector between SR 316 and Daniells Bridge would be closed when the flyover was built.

In April of 2021, Georgia Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle overruled the lower-level engineers in favor of a full access median break on the Oconee Connector at the Deferred Tax property.

Pirkle copied Jamie Boswell, who represents the area on the state Transportation Board, in making her decision.

Boswell also was listing the Deferred Tax acreage through his real estate firm, Boswell Properties.

Price is free to resubmit a zoning application, but Guy Herring, Oconee County Director of Planning and Code Enforcement, told me in an email message late on Wednesday that no new plans have been submitted for the shopping center.

Access On Plans

The plans uploaded on Wednesday for the Virtual Public Information Open House show retention of the existing median break at the old Fire Station but no access to that break from the Deferred Tax property and no signalized light at the median break.

Virgil Langford Road Plans
(Click To Enlarge)

Both the exit to the Connector from SR 316 traveling eastbound and the entrance to SR 316 eastbound from the Connector seem to fall within right of way currently owned by GDOT.

The westbound exit from SR 316 to the Oconee Connector and the westbound entrance to SR 316 from the Oconee Connector also fall in what largely appears to be existing right of way.

The separate plans for the Virgil Langford Road flyover do not incorporate the westbound entrance from the Connector to SR 316, leaving it unclear how the two interrelated projects mesh.

The Virgil Langford Road flyover itself is shown as being east of the exiting Virgil Langford Road on the north side of SR 316, requiring additional right of way acquisition.

The building housing Georgia Skin Cancer and Aesthetic Dermatology at 1285 Virgil Langford Road is marked on the plans as “Displaced Property.”

Project Visualization

In addition to the plans, GDOT on Wednesday uploaded what it calls a “project visualization” of the two proposed intersections.

Screen Shot From Visualization
(Click To Enlarge)

That visualization shows the exit ramp from SR 316 heading east to the Oconee Connector increasing in height at it leaves SR 316 to meet an elevated Oconee Connector.

The westbound exit from SR 316 seems to have less of a increase in grade as it meets the Connector further from the bridge over SR 316.

The entrance from the Oconee Connector to SR 316 eastbound is at a decline to meet the existing grade of SR 316.

The entrance to SR 316 from the Oconee Connector heading west shows a long descent before ducking under the bridge carrying the elevated Virgil Langford Road.

The new Virgil Langford Road is elevated to fly over the existing SR 316.

Bundle Of Projects

The Virgil Langford and Oconee Connector interchanges are part or a “bundle” of three “design-build projects.”

The third interchange in the bundle is Jimmy Daniell Road. (The plans show the spelling of the name with one L, but county documents generally use the second L.)

GDOT held the Virtual Presentation and Q and A Session part of the Open House for Jimmy Daniell Road on May 26.

A video of that session is available on the GDOT web site

The three projects are currently in the Environmental Process part of the schedule, and that phase will continue through 2023.

Selection of a firm to do the design and building of the interchanges is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2023, and construction is expected to start a year later.

GDOT Information And Comment Form

Access to information on the Virtual Public Information Open House for Virgil Langford Road and the Oconee Connector interchanges is available HERE.

The comment form is available online HERE.

Those interested in joining the Virtual Presentation and Q and A Session should go to THIS web page a little before 4 p.m. on June 22.

GDOT says it plans to put a video of that virtual session online after June 22.

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