Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Oconee Commission Agrees To Ban Truck Traffic From Mars Hill Road, Section of Connector, Astondale Road

***Update To Truck Traffic Ordinance Lists 56 Roads***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners passed an updated Truck Traffic Ordinance on Tuesday night that bans through trucks on Mars Hill Road in its entirety, on the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316, and on Astondale Road.

The ordinance lists 56 roads in the county on which through truck traffic is forbidden, up from the 47 on the list when the ordinance was given first reading on May 24.

Commissioner Mark Thomas had asked that Mars Hill Road from Butler’s Crossing to Daniells Bridge Road, the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316, and Astondale Road be removed from the list at that meeting.

Commissioner Amrey Harden also asked that Mars Hill Road from Butler’s Crossing and the stub of the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316 be removed. At a minimum, Harden said, he wanted more discussion of the inclusion of these roads.

At the meeting on Tuesday night, Thomas and Harden said their concerns had been addressed, and the Truck Traffic Ordinance, an update of the one last passed by the Board in 2005, received unanimous support of the Commission.

In other action on Tuesday, the Board approved a $65.9 million Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, which is a slight decrease from the amended Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

The new budget goes into effect on July 1, and Commission Chair John Daniell said it is predicated on a drop in the millage rate sufficient to offset increased property assessments due simply to market forces.

Daniell said this means there will be no tax increase in Oconee County this year for support of county government, though he said it will be August or September before the Board actually will vote to set the millage rate.

Discussion Of Roads

Daniell began the discussion of the Truck Traffic Ordinance by saying that, “over the years, it appears roadways were signed for no through trucks that were not added correctly to the road listing in the ordinance.”

Screen Shot Of Sheriff Hale Before Commission 6/7/2022

Daniell said “The Sheriff’s Office as well as the County offices experienced an increase in complaints related to truck traffic along county roads in the last 12 to 18 months.”

As a result, Daniell said, the Sheriff’s Office and the county administration decided “to work together to provide an accurate and enforceable truck ordinance.”

Daniell then read the list of 56 roads listed in the ordinance.

Added to the list from two weeks earlier were Barber Creek Road, Carson Graves Road, Colham Ferry Road, Hebron Church Road, Pete Dickens Road, Price Mill Road, Salem Road, and Snows Mill Road.

The new list also explicitly includes the Oconee Connector from Daniells Bridge Road to SR 316. The list on May 24 had incorrectly listed Mars Hill Road from Butler’s Crossing to SR 316, which incorporated that stub of the Oconee Connector.

Discussion Following Reading Of List

After reading the list, Daniell reminded the Board that the Overlay District approved in 2016 for Mars Hill Road “is designed for protection of the existing neighborhoods within the Mars Hill corridor.”

The majority of the area along Mars Hill Road between Butler’s Crossing and Daniells Bridge Road is designated as Suburban Neighborhood in the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Daniell said.

Harden said he had not been thinking of the Overlay District for Mars Hill Road when he made his request that through truck traffic be allowed on Mars Hill Road and “I’m fine with leaving the Mars Hill Road on the list.”

Harden said, however, he had another concern.

Delivery Routes

The ordinance states that “It shall be unlawful for any truck to travel certain County roads hereinafter listed unless the vehicle trip originates or ends on such road or is made for the purpose of making a delivery to a site on such road.”

Harden wanted to know if that prohibited a business in Oconee County from traveling with a delivery truck over a road such as Mars Hill to make a delivery on another road in Oconee County, even if the vendor was not located on Mars Hill Road.

“My interpretation would be that is legal under the ordinance,” Daniell responded.

What does the ordinance say about a business in Oconee County making deliveries to a site outside Oconee County, Harden asked.

“If they’re just traveling through trying to find the shortest route and the road is posted, it is my interpretation would be that would not be allowed,” Daniell said.

“As I’ve said,” Daniell said, “we’ve received enormous complaints on trucks that are clearly passing through the county.”

Sheriff Joins Discussion

At this point, Daniell asked Sheriff James Hale to come to the podium and join the discussion. Hale remained at the podium for 30 minutes.

Hale said one of the problems the county had historically trying to prevent truck traffic on Mars Hill Road was “due to the fact that the signage was in the wrong place and couldn’t be fixed.”

Hale said when he took office in 2020 “I came looking for clarification in this ordinance so that I can better help the citizens of Oconee County by enforcement.”

“The more we looked at it the more we found that this ordinance was a little bit flawed in the manner which it was written,” Hale said.

In addition, he said, “there were signage on roads that were not on the list.”

“It has never been the spirit of trying to keep somebody from being able to make a delivery on a road that’s a no through truck road or be able to travel a short distance to get to that location if they have to travel down those through trucks,” Hale said.

Thomas, at the May 24 meeting, had asked that both Mars Hill Road and Astondale Road be removed from the no through truck list, saying he wanted to encourage truck traffic on those roads.

At the meeting on Tuesday, he said his concern about Astondale Road were with the issue of delivery, and he withdrew his request that the routes be removed from the list.

Citizen Comment

Following the May 24 meeting, the county had posted a comment form on the county web site asking if Mars Hill Road, the stub of the Oconee Connector, and Astondale Road should be removed from the no through truck list.

Daniell never reported on the findings of that survey.

Daniell did allow public comment before the Board voted on the Truck Traffic Ordinance on Tuesday night.

Four people came to the podium to speak, all in opposition to removing Astondale Road from the list.

Screen Shot Of Williams Before Commission 6/7/2022

Chuck Williams, who formerly represented Oconee County in the Georgia House, said “the Astondale Road removal stirred up quite a stir in south Oconee County.”

Williams said truck traffic has increased on SR 15 as a result of expansion of the Georgia ports, and “if Astondale came off the list, you would have freight traffic taking Astondale” to avoid downtown Watkinsville.

Johnny Pritchett, Mayor of Bishop, said he “was concerned about Astondale Road, and the traffic it would bring off 15 into Bishop and turn right. You know, we’ve about got enough,” he added.

The vote approving the ordinance, with Mars Hill Road, the stub of the Oconee Connector, and Astondale Road on the no through truck list, was unanimous.

Other Action

No citizen spoke at the public hearing on the budget, and the Board voted without discussion to approve the document.

Commission Chair Daniell announced at the beginning of the regular meeting that the county will hold a Town Hall style meeting at 6 p.m. on June 14 at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.

Daniell said there will be discussion of the plans for the five-year update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan at that meeting.

Jody Woodall, Public Works Director for Oconee County, told the Board he had been in conversation with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) about improvements to the intersection of Cole Spring Road and Hog Mountain Road.

He said he expected to know what GDOT proposes in about two weeks.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube channel.

The hearing on the budget begins at 1:35 in the video.

The regular Board of Commissioners meeting starts at 6:44 in the video.

Discussion of Cole Springs Road is at 10:00 in the video.

Discussion of the Truck Traffic Ordinance begins at 13:17 in the video.

Sheriff Hale came to the podium at 27:10 in the video.

Citizen comment begins at 58:09 in the video.

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