Monday, March 25, 2024

Virtual Public Information Open House Uncovers Opposition To Planned SR 316 Interchange At Dials Mill Extension

***Objections To Displacements, Road Closing***

Georgia Department of Transportation experts made clear at their virtual Public Information Open House on Friday that the preferred design for the Dials Mill Road/Dials Mill Extension interchange with SR 316 is a right-angled, multi-grade junction at a reconfigured Dials Mill Extension.

Opposition to that plan has surfaced from two directions, however, and the engineers said in the virtual session on Friday said that the plans are not final.

Paige Mann attended a meeting on Friday organized by opponents of an earlier plan to put a full interchange at Dials Mill Road to make her case that the preferred design is an unacceptable one.

The planned interchange at Dials Mill Extension will take four properties, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) experts said in the virtual session on Friday, though they did not identify the properties.

Paige Mann said one of the four properties is owned by her and her husband, Matt, and losing it will be very difficult for the two of them and their three children.

Organized but anonymous mailings, social media posts, and leafletting campaigns opposed the preferred plan because it involves closing Dials Mill Road with cul-de-sacs at SR 316.

According to the campaign, closing Dials Mill Road would put families “at risk in the event of a disaster.”

Participants in the virtual session asked the GDOT experts about the decision to move the proposed interchange from Dials Mill Road to Dials Mill Extension and about the decision to offer a design that takes four properties.

Virtual Session

Melissa Johnson, serving as moderator for the Public Information Open House, said at the outside that it was important to “keep in mind that the design concept for this corridor is not yet final.”

Screen Shot Of Thomas

“All of the materials that you see today,” she continued, “as well as the materials on the project web page, are subject to change.”

She encouraged comments during and after the session as a way to have impact on the final design. Participants in the session on Friday could submit questions via a chat function.

Bridget Thomas, Project Manager, followed Johnson in the session on Friday and said the proposed project involves a diamond interchange with “roundabout-controlled ramp terminals at Dials Mill Extension and SR 316.”

“Dials Mill Road will be realigned to intersect with Dials Mill Extension,” she said, “and Dials Mill Spur will be realigned.”

“The intersection of Dials Mill Road and SR 316 is proposed to be cul-de-sac on both sides of SR 316 with two detours,” she said.

She said the project is in the “preliminary design stage” and presented a Concept Layout reflecting those plans.

“Nothing is set in stone,” she said.

Construction Details

Thomas said that construction is expected to take 36 months.

Preferred Concept Layout
Click To Enlarge

Two detours are anticipated during construction, Johnson said.

The first detour will be 3.1 miles and last approximately five to six months.

The second will be 2.7 miles and last between 12 and 15 months.

Included in the detours are sections of Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension as well as sections of the Atlanta Highway, Aiken Road, and McNutt Creek Road, she said.

Thomas said GDOT expects to select a contractor in 2025 “and we anticipate construction starting in 2025 as well.”

“We expect substantial completion of this project by 2028,” she said.

Preferred Design

In responding to questions posed during the virtual session, the GDOT experts involved in the project made it clear that the preferred design is the one under consideration and that right of way acquisition for that design is expected to begin in a few weeks.

Screen Shot Of Gavins

Marvin Gavins, Design Engineer Group Manager, Office of Roadway Design, said GDOT conducted what he called an Intersection Control Evaluation before making the decision in favor of the preferred design.

Gavins said the decision to close Dials Mill Road and put the intersection at Dials Mill Extension was because “there were too many impacts at Dials Mill Plantation, so there was a lot of push back during the concept phase.”

“So we actually revised the scope of the project,” he said. “So that was the gist of it right there. It was more the impacts to the local community.”

Later in the session, in response to another question, Gavins elaborated on that answer.

He said the an earlier design that put the full interchange at Dials Mill Road was rejected because “it was determined that this layout would have impacts on the eligible historic property of the Lee Daniel Farm” as well as “the Dials Mill Plantation subdivision.”

“An improved concept report from June 2023 proposed to relocate the interchange to Dials Mill Extension and SR 316 intersection,” he said. “And this was done to remove these impacts and to reduce impacts to surrounding streams and wetlands.”

County tax records show a 20-acre parcel diagonal across SR 316 from Dials Mill Plantation that contains a home built in 1910 and that previously had been owned by Nellie Lee and Walter L. Daniel. It is now owned by UCS Dials Mill Road LLC.

Other Questions And Answers

In response to other questions, GDOT experts said that access to SR 316 will remain open during the construction and that Dials Mill Road will remain a no-truck route.

Screen Shot Of Dills

Traffic at the exchanges is projected to increase from 900 cars per day at present to about 2,600 cars per day in the next 20 years, they said.

Most of the questions late in the session focused on the decision to move the full interchange from Dials Mill Road.

After she and her colleagues dodged three earlier question asking the same thing, Meagan Dills, District 1 Right of Way Team Manager, Office of Right of Way, said that “With the previous design there was one relocation.”

Thomas had said earlier that the preferred design “unfortunately will displace four, cause four relocations.”

The concept plan on the GDOT web site shows the names of the owners of three of those four properties: John J. and Jennifer Vogel, Stephanie P. McClain and Matthew Charles Mann, and Ingrid and Allcast Lopez, Jhon Angel Diaz.

Dills said “We expect right of way plans early April. After we have received the plans and reviewed them, we will begin to contact the property owners impacted by this project. So hopefully you will begin to hear from right of way by mid to late April.”

Amber Phillips, Assistant State Environmental Administrator, Office of Environmental Services, said environment studies are underway and “we do have some waters in this corridor. And any waters that cannot be avoided, we will mitigate those and we will obtain the proper permit to construct in those areas.”

Gavins said “The current design is approximately $8 million more than the previous concept.” The reference was to the proposed interchange at Dials Mill Road.

Skepticism And Response

One questioner asked why the Dials Mill Road/Dials Mill Extension project was prioritized, with construction expected to start next year.

He did not get an answer.

“Did you consider the thoughts and opinions of anyone other than the people in the Dials Mill Plantation,” another questioner asked. “I don’t think others in the area like this design.”

“As noted earlier,” Thomas responded, “various factors were considered such as crash rates, environmental resource impacts, interchange spacing, and consideration of factors that influence traffic operations. Stakeholder feedback is valuable along with consideration of many other factors.”

Another questioner asked “Which landowner did you approach to discuss the design?”

“No land owners were directly approached to discuss the design of this project,” Gavins said.

“However, coordination was held with Oconee County during the concept phase of this project,” he continued. “Survey letters were sent out to property owners within the project area and the PIOH is a key public outreach effort to provide additional detail.” PIOH stand for the Public Information Open House.

“If the process is starting in April,” another person said, “there is nothing we can do--we who actually will be affected by this change can do and our input means nothing. Correct?”

“Right of way acquisition is currently proposed for the spring of 2024,” Dills responded. “But the comments received at this meeting will further be assessed for any changes.”

Bogart Gathering

Sharon Thelen, President of the Dials Mill Plantation Home Owner Association, organized a group viewing of the Friday GDOT virtual session at the Bogart Library. More than 35 people attended.

Paige Mann came prepared to read a statement to GDOT officials, but GDOT blocked that kind of input.

“From what I understand, the residents of Dials Mill Plantation do not want the overpass at Dials Mill Road because of the noise it will cause and the potential to reduce their property value,” the statement reads.

“I am here today to tell you that in the grand scheme of things I do not think either of those are valid reasons to have the overpass at one location over the other,” she wrote.

“My family of has lived in our home for close to 14 years,” her statement reads. “It has been the only constant home in my 17-year-old stepdaughter’s life. It is the home that I have brought both of my children home from the hospital to. It is where our family pets are buried. It is where my family has made countless memories. It is our forever home.”

Thelen has created a web site, Oconee 316, to monitor work on the roadway and provide information about its progression.

Keep Dials Mill Open

No one spoke up at the session Thelen organized at the Bogart Library openly arguing in favor of a design that would put the full interchange at Dials Mill Road.

Screen Shot Of Keep Dials Mill Open Web Page

The web site advocating that position argues that closing the road will result in “long traffic jams, constant construction noise, more trucks on roads.”

It also states that “Closing Dials Mill Road could put your family at risk in the event of a disaster.”

The web site does not list any source for the web site, but the Privacy Policy page lists at the very bottom the contact as MLU Services GA.

The Georgia Secretary of State Business database lists Marcia Ulm as the CFO of MLU Services Inc.

The web site of MLU Services says it is a Leading Disaster Recovery Operations Contractor.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners in June of last year approved a rezone for Anderson-Wells II LLC to allow FEMA trailers to be parked on a 29-acre tract at 1291 Aiken Road.

The documents are signed by William L. Ulm Sr. and by Marcia L. Ulm.

According to Oconee County Tax records, Anderson-Wells LLC owns six properties on Dials Mill Road between Dials Mill Plantation and the Atlanta Highway that are open for development.

Alternate Concept Plans

Charles Robinson, Assistant State Program Delivery Administrator, Office of Program Delivery, said in response to one of the questions at the Public Information Open House on Friday that additional concept plans could be found on the GDOT web site.

Alternate 2 from 2022
Click To Enlarge

On the site is the GDOT Concept Layout from 2022 for a full interchange at Dials Mill Road. It shows cul-de-sacs at Dials Mill Extension and the displacement of one property–the one owned by UCS Dials Mill Road LLC.

Marcia L. Ulm is listed as the Authorizer Signature for UCS Dials Mill Road LLC in the Georgia Secretary of State business database.

It also shows partial loss of property by five lots in Dials Mill Plantation and by three properties on Dials Mill Extension, including the property owned by the Manns.

Two of the properties owned by Anderson-Wells would lose acreage, but most of its properties would be unaffected by the design.

An alternative design created by GDOT shows a bridge at Dials Mill Road but no interchange and a full interchange at Dials Mill Extension that does not use a right angle and does not include roundabouts on Dials Mill Extension.

The Mann property would be greatly affected by that design.

A second alternate design would close both Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension and create a new right-angle intersection with SR 316 between those two roads.

The property owned by the Manns would be affected, but they would not be displaced.


Suzannah Heimel said...

Where were our local officials? Was there not 1 who could find time to attend this important meeting?

Lee Becker said...

Just a reminder. I will only publish comments with a full and actual name.