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09/17/00 - Comment on University Parkway - GA 316

 

COMMENT ON UNIVERSITY PARKWAY- GA 316

Recent newspaper articles have talked about the dangers of 316 and the need for upgrading it.   Most folks agree that it needs upgrading.  Many people have been working on the upgrade for years.  It is not just something that will get done quickly because it is a very expensive undertaking.  To really understand the problem, one has to understand the magnitude of the money needed and the complexity of the process for obtaining the required federal highway funding.   Without major federal funding, the state and local governments will never be able to do it.  Some have been critical of the construction of the road without the interchanges.   I agree that some major intersections should have interchanges.  We worked hard and helped fund ROW cost for the one at GA 316 and U S 78.    Had the state waited for the funds for all interchanges and bridges, we would still be talking about the “need” for an interstate or four-lane to Atlanta!
            It is imperative that officials in Barrow and Oconee County stay involved in the long planning and funding process and press for the interchanges.  If they fail to do so, others will find “solutions" for us without much regard to local impact. Left up to some folks GA 316 would just "pass through" Oconee County and Barrow (Gwinnett will get interchanges). Oconee would have mostly overpasses or dead-ends. Barrow does have several state routes that would require more effort and funding.
           
Transportation funding for local and regional projects in GA is getting lower and lower each year, though needs continue to increase. Most state funding has been "redirected" to federal matching funds. Federal projects require years of study, environmental assessment, public hearings and various technical procedures. Engineering and consultant costs for local governments are very expensive but necessary if one expects to have any Federal projects.
            An example of a Federal project in Oconee County is the four-lane project for GA 53 to GA 316, a multi-million dollar state and federal aid project. We have worked on this project for at least 3 years. Oconee has committed approximately a million dollars to the engineering and design of this large project. ROW should be acquired in the next 18 to 24 months with construction in about 3 to 4 years. The state and federal government will pay for ROW acquisition, construction costs and utility relocation expense.  Oconee will pay 20% of the utility relocation cost. 
            It will take large Federal funding to upgrade 316 and it will have to be done in phases. We (the Commission Chairs in the three counties) have talked about one in each county, as a priority, and that we must pursue it through ARC and ACORTS, etc. Oconee has been planning with the upgrade in mind for years. That is the reason for the Oconee Connector, which needs to continue to be pursued for funding for an Interchange on the University or "Athens end", as some call it.
            Right of way acquisition in Gwinnett is more expensive than the interchanges would cost in Oconee. DOT has bought ROW for the eventual interchange at the Oconee Connector and some ROW for the one planned at Jimmy Daniel Rd.  Oconee County has acquired the ROW for the relocation of McNutt Creek intersection (also sometimes called the Bogart Connector).  However, even funding to build the road at grade now (like the Oconee Connector) is prohibitively expensive for Oconee without DOT participation.  DOT provided about 45 % of the funding for the Oconee Connector and Oconee provided the rest, approximately 1.6 million dollars. 
           
The upgrade will take money and patience. Oconee, Barrow and Gwinnett have been (and need to continue) working together with DOT on a long-term plan. Incidentally, the loss of Senator Paul Broun’s advocacy will not help the process over the next few years. He had the standing to get the Oconee-Barrow-Athens area included in funding. It will take perseverance by local and state officials. “Rome was not built in a day”!   That is the reality of Federal funding and procedures and the world in which we live. 
          
  In the short-term, we must continue locally to pursue safety improvements.  In Oconee, we reduced the speed limit to 35 mph for 1,000 feet for all approaches to the road.   We installed speed limit signs, warning signs, and noise strips.   We also installed streetlights at every intersection to improve night visibility.  Walton Electric Membership Corporation installed the lights and Oconee pays the monthly cost.   DOT improved the markings on 316 for stop lines, middle lane areas and other features to make drivers more alert to the intersections.  Hopefully, this minimal investment has helped save some lives.

 

Wendell Dawson 
Chairman, Oconee Board of Commissioners 
Vice-Chair, ACORTS


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