Sunday, May 14, 2023

Movement Of Drivers Services, Georgia State Patrol To Oconee County Likely To Bring Additional Benefits

***Donated Land Key To Shift From Clarke To Oconee***

When the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority decided late last year to donate 13 acres on McNutt Creek Road south of SR 316 to the state, it set in motion a series of events likely to have significant positive impact on the county.

The Industrial Development Authority said at the time that the state Department of Driver Services would build a new Customer Service Center on the property, but soon the Georgia State Patrol was interested in relocating to the property as well.

State Rep. Marcus Wiedower was able to get $1.8 million of state bond money designated for moving the Patrol to Oconee County inserted into the House version of the state budget, and that money was in the budget signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on May 5.

Current plans are for both the Division of Driver Services Customer Service Center and the Georgia Patrol Office to move from their east Athens-Clarke County location to the acreage on McNutt Creek Road.

Both Oconee County Sheriff James Hale and Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said this move will help the county as the State Patrol officers will augment the work of the Sheriff’s Deputies.

The biggest impact of the Development Authority's decision to donate the 13 acres to the state could come from changes the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) makes to accommodate the new state facilities.

GDOT had planned to build a flyover for McNutt Creek Road of SR 316, but a full interchange at that road, which now seems possible, would provide direct access to the new state facilities, to the county’s Fire Station on McNutt Creek Road just north of SR 316, and to Bogart itself.

GDOT has scheduled a public meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. on May 25 at the Bogart Community Center, 141 East Thompson Street, in Bogart, to show its current plans and give the public a chance to react.

County Announcement

On May 4 the county posted on its web site the announcement of what it called a “Georgia DOT Town Hall--316 Corridor Changes.”

May 25 Meeting Announcement GDOT Web Site

The Town Hall is to introduce “GDOT’s SR 316 Planning Study for the SR 316 corridor in Gwinnett, Barrow, and Oconee counties,” according to the posting. “The study will identify improvements beyond the currently programmed SR 316 reconstruction projects.”

“Display boards will summarize information to date on the study and provide a timeline of when the study will be complete,” according to the announcement. “Members of the public will have the opportunity to complete an online survey where they can provide additional feedback.”

The county web site directs readers to “Visit the GDOT SR 316 Planning Study Hub.”

Current Plans

That GDOT Planning Study Hub site shows four Oconee County intersections to be included in the current reassessment: Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension, Jimmy Daniell Road, Virgil Langford Road, and the Oconee Connector.

It does not list the McNutt Creek Road intersection.

The GDOT web site announces the May 25 meeting in Bogart as part of the current study, and the four Oconee County projects are listed as to be under construction by 2025.

In the past, the GDOT plans for the transformation of SR 316 showed a flyover of McNutt Creek Road at SR 316, without any access to and from SR 316.

The plans also showed a full interchange at Dials Mill Road.

Dials Mill Extension was to fly over SR 316 without access.

McNutt Creek Full Interchange

At the State of the County address in March, Commission Chair Daniell said that GDOT is considering changes to its plans for the McNutt Creek Road intersection with SR 316, switching from a flyover to a full access multi-grade intersection.

At the same time, GDOT is re-evaluating, in response to citizen input, its proposed intersection designs for Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension with SR 316, Daniell said.

Daniell said that a full interchange at McNutt Creek Road rather than a flyover would better serve Bogart and provide better access to the county’s Fire Station Number 7 on McNutt Creek Road just north of the SR 316 intersection.

Bogart Council Member John Larkin, on behalf of the city, has told GDOT that the city’s preference is for a full interchange with SR 316 at McNutt Creek Road and that a full interchange at Dials Mill Road is its second option.

A full interchange also would provide direct access to the new Department of Driver Services Customer Service Center and to the new Georgia State Patrol Office.

Daniell, Hale On Patrol Move

In an email on May 8, Daniell said “I believe the GSP (Georgia State Patrol) post in Oconee County will increase the presence and activity of State Troopers here.”

“GSP provides services that assist the Sheriff’s Office in carrying out their mission,” he said. “With the assistance of GSP, our deputies (will be) available to spend more time in proactive patrol duties.”

“GSP handles a lot of our wrecks and helps multiply our resources for traffic enforcement in the county,” Sheriff Hale said in an email that same day. “Having them in our back yard is a welcome asset.”

“Partnering with the state on this project also appears to give Oconee County an improved access to 316,” Daniell said in that May 8 email.

How These Changes Came About

The current Fiscal Year 2023 Georgia Budget includes $4 million for construction of a Department of Driver Services Customer Services Center.

From GDOT Hub

Daniell said he made inquiries about the location of the new Center after it appeared in Governor Brian Kemp’s budget submission.

After the budget was approved by the General Assembly, Daniell said, the Department of Drivers Services started a site search.

Daniell said that when the Department of Drivers Services “went to looking for property they figured out quite right quickly they couldn't build a building and purchase property, so they came to us asking for some help.”

The decision by the Industrial Development Authority to donate the 13-acre site was the result, Daniell said.

Technically a part of the county’s Gateway Technology and Business Park, which is north of SR 316, the acreage south of SR 316 has a small amount of frontage on McNutt Creek Road.

Daniell said at the time of the Industrial Development Authority decision to donate the land that the Authority has found little interest in the parcel over the years on the part of potential purchasers.

The Department of Driver Services provides commercial and regular passenger vehicle driver's licenses, driver's permits, and state identification cards.

It’s current offices are at 1505 US-29, Athens-Clarke County. The Georgia State Patrol Office is at that same address

Georgia State Patrol Move

“We felt it was a good idea to go ahead and partner with the state” on the Department of Drivers Serivices move, Daniell said in the State of the County address in March. “So DDS is in the process of getting ready to close on that and then they'll start construction of the Driver Services building on that location.”

“In addition we have $1.8 million in the (state) budget right now to move the State Patrol Post from Athens to this location,” Daniell said. “So the two State agencies will be relocating to this property.”

Rep. Wiedower, as chair of the General Government subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, was able to get the $1.8 million inserted into the House version of the state budget.

Wiedower, a Republican, represents the 121st House District, consisting of six of Oconee County’s eight precincts as well as parts of Clarke County.

Bogart and Marswood Hall precincts are in the 120th House District, represented by Houston Gaines, also a Republican.

Part of the 120th House District also is in Clarke County.

The existing Department of Drivers Services Customer Services Center and Georgia State Patrol Office are in Democrat Spencer Frye’s 122nd House District, the only House District entirely in Clarke County.

Dials Mill Road And Dials Mill Extension

At the State of the County presentation in March, Commission Chair Daniell said that GDOT is re-evaluating its proposed intersection designs for Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension with SR 316, in response to citizen input.

Dials Mill And McNutt Creek Overviews GDOT Web Site

Residents of Dials Mill Plantation subdivision have opposed construction of a full interchange at the Dials Mill Road, saying it would adversely affect their subdivision.

The county has submitted plans to GDOT that would replace the interchange at Dials Mill Road with one falling roughly between Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension.

The situation is complicated by the fact the Boswell Group is listing nine tracts of land at the Dials Mill Road intersection with SR 316.

Jamie Boswell is the owner of the Boswell Group and also is the area representative to the State Transportation Board, which oversees GDOT.

Boswell was appointed to a new five-year term on the Transportation Board by area legislators in March.

Open Records Request

Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, filed an open records request with GDOT on April 7 of 2022 asking for “Information related to SR 316 Transformation Project” for Dials Mill Extension and Dials Mill Road.

The documents, which Thelen shared with me, show that GDOT rejected an option of building one interchange between Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension that would have served both roads, as was suggested by the county.

An email thread, which Thelen received, showed that some GDOT engineers asked that a decision on design of the interchanges be postponed until after public comment was received, but that request was rejected by supervisors on the grounds that they were under pressure to move the project forward quickly.

The document shows a Preferred Alternative that includes a full interchange at Dials Mill Road.

Dials Mill Extension south of SR 316 is closed at SR 316 with traffic directed to Dials Mill Spur, and Dials Mill Extension north of SR 316 ends in a cul-de-sac, according to this Preferred Alternative.

Rejected Alternative 1 would have made a full interchange at Dials Mill Extension but only a bridge for Dials Mill Road.

Rejected Alternative 2 and Alternative 3 would have created a full interchange between Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension.

The email exchange shows that Boswell was copied on notification of the decision on the design.

1 comment:

Lee Becker said...

Please remember that I only publish comments with a full, real name attached.