Wednesday, May 22, 2024

State Department Of Transportation Responds To Comments On Proposed Dials Mill Road Extension Interchange With SR 316

***Owner Of Properties Launches New Critical Campaign***

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), in responding to comments received following its virtual Public Information Open House on March 22, confirmed that the current plans remain for a full interchange of SR 316 at Dials Mill Extension.

Those project plans may need to be revised, GDOT Environmental Administrator Eric Duff wrote in a letter dated May 20, but, if “no significant changes” are proposed, the project will proceed to right of way acquisition, final design, and construction based on current plans.

Duff’s letter is not on the GDOT web site and has not been fully distributed, but it is shown as having been copied to Jamie Boswell, State Transportation Board Member representing Oconee County, as well as to State Rep. Houston Gaines, and to State Sen. Bill Cowsert.

On May 21, a “sponsor” named Keep Dials Mills Road Open launched an advertising campaign on Facebook with at least eight different messages arguing against the decision to build the exchange at Dials Mill Extension rather than at Dials Mill Road, as had been proposed in the past.

The advertisements, with graphic images, argue that GDOT is “tearing down homes and displacing families,” “blocking critical disaster relief services,” “wasting $8 million in taxpayer dollars,” and “pandering to a wealthy neighborhood.”

All of the advertisements include the message “Tell GDOT not to change the plan for Dials Mill Road,” and several contain the phone number for the Customer Service Line of GDOT.

A web site, Keep Dials Mill Open, is linked to the owner of land along Dials Mill Road that would be prime for development if the full interchange were at that road and would be less attractive for development with the plans now favored by GDOT.

Duff’s Letter

Keep Dials Mill Road Open launched its attack on the GDOT plans for the exchange at Dials Mill Extension rather than at Dials Mill Road even before the virtual Public Information Open House on March 22.

GDOT Letter

Duff reported in his letter that GDOT had received 154 responses, 28 in support of the project, 109 opposed, 15 that were “uncommitted,” and two with conditional support.

He offered receptive responses to the supportive letters, but the eight-page letter provided detailed responses to the critics.

He said a right- in, right-out option was not appropriate for Dials Mill Road because of the proximity of the road to the proposed full interchange at Dials Mill Extension.

Duff wrote that “numerous comments were received noting that they believe construction to close Dial Mill Road would cause major delays and cause harm to public safety.” That has been a theme of the Keep Dials Mill Road Open advertisements.

“The proposed interchange is expected to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes in the area of the Dials Mill Road and Dials Mill Extension intersections with SR 316,” Duff wrote.

Another complaint listed by Duff is that closing Dials Mill Road “will block direct access to the voting polls and to the post office in downtown Bogart.” The critic asked for a traffic light instead of closing the road.

“The preferred option was chosen over traffic signals to reduce the most severe types of intersection crashes such as right-angle, left-turn, and head-on collisions and improve traffic flow and operations,” Duff wrote.

“The interchange will slightly increase the distance traveled from the project area from two miles currently to three miles after the project is completed,” he wrote.

Positive Comments

One of the positive comments Duff reported was “Making cul-de-sacs on Dials Mill Rd and the entrance to 316 eastbound at Dials Mill Extension makes for easier 316 access for numerous neighborhoods off of Dials Mill and therefore makes the roads safer. It also doesn’t create a 316 on ramp mere feet from an existing family neighborhood.”

“Keep the plans for Dials Mill Road the way they currently are and do not bend to pressure of unscrupulous and misleading propaganda,” was another comment Duff listed.

“Please close Dials Mill Road,” a third comment listed by Duff said. “People speed down Dials Mill without any regard to the residents on the road.”

Duff thanked the writers for these comments.

Factors In Decision Listed

Duff listed a comment that said that “everyone has indicated that they had rather for Dial Mill Extension to be closed rather than the current plan.”

Duff responded that “The proposed project was designed to minimize impacts to ROW, environmental resources and the traveling public to the greatest extent possible while addressing the need and purpose of the project.”

“Several alternatives were evaluated, and the current proposed design is the most feasible alternative when considering numerous factors such as interchange spacings, traffic operations, safety, and overall project delivery,” he said.

Another comment said “This proposal costs 8 million dollars more than the previous design,” according to Duff’s letter.

“Project costs typically fluctuate through project development up until final plans and are affected by inflation,” Duff wrote. “GDOT works to minimize project costs wherever possible and update cost estimates at a minimum on an annual basis throughout the plan development stage of the project.”

“It should be noted that the previously referenced project cost estimate was a high-level conceptual plan cost estimate,” he said, “but the more recent project cost estimate is a more detailed design based upon additional data obtained for the project.”

Release Of Letter

Sharon Thelen, who is president of the Dials Mill Plantation Home Owners Association and who has been an opponent of a full interchange at Dials Mill Road, received a copy of Duff’s letter on May 20 from Bridget Thomas, project manager at GDOT.

Thelen had written to Thomas on May 13 and again on May 20 asking her about release of the responses to the Public Information Open House.

Thelen also manages the web site Oconee 316 Keeping Neighbors Informed.

The letter seems not to have gone out yet to others who made comments to GDOT.

“The responses were sent this afternoon by GDOT Environmental via email,” Thomas wrote to Thelen on May 20.

Keep Dials Mill Open

A web site with the URL was launched before the March Public Information Open House and contains a Privacy Policy statement that the policy is for MLU Services GA.

Facebook Advertisements Against GDOT Plans

The Georgia Secretary of State lists Marcia Ulm as the CEO and CFO of MLU Services Inc.

Marcia L. Ulm also is the Authorizer Signature for UCS Dials Mill Road LLC, which applied for and received a permit in January to demolish a historic home on the property at the northwest corner of Dials Mill Road and SR 316.

At the March Public Information Open House, GDOT Engineer Marvin Gavins said for the first time publicly that GDOT had picked Dials Mill Extension over Dials Mill Road for its preferred full interchange at SR 316 in part because of the existence of that historic home.

That historic home has been demolished and the property has been cleared.

Marcia L. Ulm, according to county tax records, also owns a residence in Jennings Mill that is listed in Secretary of State business records as the business location of Andersen-Wells II LLC.

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

In the past the Andersen-Wells II properties were listed by Boswell Properties as for sale for development, but these properties are not currently shown under commercial listings on the Boswell web site.

Georgia Transportation Board Member Jamie Boswell is owner of Boswell Properties.

Construction of the Dials Mill Road Extension currently is listed for 2025, though no contract letting is scheduled for this year.

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