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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, November 14, 2001

DOT unveils 28 ideas for safety on Ga. 316
Oconee residents asked for comment
Rebecca McCarthy - Staff

Watkinsville --- An HOV lane with a barrier, bridges over the highway and toll booths are just some of the possibilities under study for improving safety along Ga. 316, the route that connects metro Atlanta with Athens.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is paying engineering consultants PBS&J $00,000 to come up with a master plan by year's end for improving the highway, which carries from 14,600 to 85,600 vehicles a day in Oconee, Barrow and Gwinnett counties.

Though it looks like an interstate, Ga. 316 doesn't function like one for most of its 37 miles, and that's the problem --- drivers don't watch for traffic lights or cross roads.

With cars entering from cross roads into oncoming traffic and some drivers seemingly practicing for the Indy 500, Ga. 316's accident rate exceeds the rate for similar roads. Fatalities coincide with the start of spring and fall semester at the University of Georgia, and more than half of them occur on Sundays.

To make Ga. 316 safer, DOT officials want to build interchanges and bridges and to restrict access, a plan that comes with a $ billion price tag.

On Tuesday night, Oconee County residents saw for the first time 28 proposed interchanges and commented on the plan.

A proposal for a restricted access HOV lane had participants murmuring. It evolved in part, officials said, after PBS&J found that the majority of drivers on Ga. 316 "go the whole distance," said DOT spokeswoman Terri Pope.

Of 5,000 surveys distributed, consultants found that 40 percent of respondents were commuters who routinely travel the entire corridor to and from I-85.

It's likely that a combination of funding sources, such as tolls, state and federal money and perhaps state bonds, will be needed to pay for the improvements, said Jim Evans, an engineer with PBS&J.

Using government money alone would mean that the redesign wouldn't be completed for 15 to 20 years, "and I don't think we can wait that long."