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12-28-04 GA 316 Upgrade Plans & Tolls Debate Continues

I know that the State does not have the funds to do this project in a reasonable period of time.  Even if it did, the Athens Area does not have the population or political pull to be able to get state funding other than over a period of 30 to 40 years.  Meanwhile, public and GA DOT officials, with different agendas, come and go.

AVOC

 

December 28, 2004

 

GA 316 Upgrade Plans & Tolls Debate Continues

 

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

 

At least five facts seem accurate about GA 316;

 

  • Georgia 316 should have been built right in the first place;
  • Georgia 316 is dangerous and needs improvement and upgrade to Interstate Standards;
  • Citizens by a large majority do not want to pay tolls;
  • The State does not have the funds or will to pay for a $ Billion upgrade for a road in Northeast GA going through some smaller populated counties;
  • Traffic gridlock on GA 316 in Gwinnett is approaching “critical mass” and folks are trying to avoid driving it during the busy times of the year.

 

As to what should have been done decades ago, that is a waste of time.  We are dealing with the present and problems of transportation in 2004 and nothing can change the past.  Another note on the road’s beginnings too.  Had the GA DOT waited to “build it right”, this area would probably still be waiting on the road.

 

The road is dangerous with all of the increased traffic.   The Gwinnett end is almost impossible to travel during rush hours without a long wait.   The GA 316 and I – 85 Interchange is the biggest holdup at this time.  Unless something is done, real commercial development will seek out US 129 further east and connected to I – 85.

 

None of us want to pay tolls for using a road.  However, we cannot “have our cake and eat it too”.  If the road is to be upgraded, funding is necessary.   Sure, some folks will make money off the project.  However, that is nothing new.   No one, except the state, can afford to build a “money losing” road.   Some politicians who like to sound populist and be critical of the tolls need to come up with alternative means of funding.  That is harder than criticizing and takes vision and leadership.

 

From years of working with local, regional and state level transportation policies and upgrade discussions, I know that the State does not have the funds to do this project in a reasonable period of time.  Even if it did, the Athens Area does not have the population or political pull to be able to get state funding other than over a period of 30 to 40 years.  Meanwhile, public and GA DOT officials, with different agendas, come and go.

 

Will a different set of officials still be debating the funds and method of upgrade 10 years from now?  Much of this debate has been going on for over 12 years.  Talk and criticism will not do the job.


The Barrow County News

        http://www.barrowcountynews.com/news.shtml#main1

 

December 19, 2004

 

Comment time opens on (University) parkway plan


In advance of possible agreement, input is being sought on proposal to upgrade 316 with public/private effort, which likely includes tolls


Do you want to pay 12 cents a mile to drive on a new and safety-improved University Parkway?

The proposal for a public/private initiative to finance a faster fix for the traffic safety concerns of Highway 316 may be speeding closer toward reality with Thursday's announcement by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

 

During Thursday's meeting of the appointed State Transportation Board, Transportation Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl updated the board members on the status of the current public/private proposal for safety and capacity improvements on Ga. 316 spanning Gwinnett, Barrow, Oconee and Clarke counties.

As part of Linnenkohl's update which was given in executive session, the "agreement to agree" on the proposal from the Parkway Group to take the next step in the process spelled out in Senate Bill 257.

Consideration of the execution of a Commitment Agreement with the Parkway Group is on the horizon, stated a release issued Dec. 16.

The Board had considered amending its agenda to take up the matter but the State Attorney General advised against that effort.

On Thursday, the State Transportation Board urged Linnenkohl to expedite the delivery of the Department's SR 316 public private initiative report to the House and Senate Transportation Committees and to provide notice to the public that the Board will be voting on whether to approve the commitment agreement at a called Board meeting on Jan. 5, 2005.

According to the Department of Transportation, a commitment agreement is simply a pledge to continue negotiations.

"While the commitment agreement does not force the department into a final agreement, it does carry a good faith obligation to work toward a final contract," said the release from Vicki Gavalas, who heads communications for GDOT.

Before a commitment agreement can even be considered however, Department Policy requires a 15-day public comment period which began Dec. 16. Public comments can be sent via the Georgia DOT webpage or in writing to Georgia Department of Transportation, Attention: Chief Engineer, #2 Capitol Square, Atlanta, GA 30334-1002.

"Safety and congestion reduction are the catalyst for the improvements to this highway, and what we are discussing could mean seeing these improvements in eight years instead of waiting on traditional funding which could take up to 30 years," said Linnenkohl. "The public will be invited to comment on their desire to move forward with improvements on S.R.316 using the Public/Private Initiative as a financing option."

The department will post a description of the project provided by the Parkway Group so that the public will have a better idea of its parameters. The board will consider all comments gathered in making their final decision of whether or not to move forward with the commitment agreement in early January 2005.

"We are moving forward very carefully to ensure that the entire process meets the requirement of the law since this is the first proposal we have received," said Linnenkohl.

"It is imperative that we keep a balance between our desire to keep the public involved and informed and the need to protect proprietary information as dictated by law," said Linnenkohl.

If the Board agrees to execute the commitment agreement in the January meeting, the public will learn more about this proposal when it is made public and will have the opportunity to become more engaged in the process.

There has been criticism of the proposal's secrecy as well as of the methods set out in Senate Bill 257 which do not provide for additional involvement of the Georgia General Assembly with the exception of review.

According to State Rep. England, the presentation which is required to be given to legislators may be presented only to the chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation Committees.

For more information, visit www.dot.state.ga.us and click on Public Private Initiatives at the bottom of the Featured Links list.

State Transportation Board authorizes study of Georgia 400
The State Transportation Board, along with the State Road and Tollway Authority, approved a study Thursday to determine the viability of using toll revenue for the implementation of planned and programmed improvements to State Route 400 from I-85 to State Route 60 in Lumpkin County. Although the need for improvements along this widely-traveled corridor has been established through previous studies conducted by the Georgia DOT and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, timely construction of identified improvements has been constrained due to lack of funding. The State Route 400 Toll Feasibility Study would examine the scope of approved projects and the funding necessary for completion.

"Georgia 400 continues to experience strong growth in residents and jobs and requires effective transportation infrastructure to support this growth," said David Doss, State Transportation Board Chairman. "It is imperative that our agencies work together to accelerate certain projects along this busy corridor."

The Board also approved a study on I-75/I-575 to determine the feasibility of implementing value pricing techniques on the High Occupancy Vehicles lanes (HOV) and Bus Rapid Transit lanes.

The Board also approved several administrative promotions within the Department at the monthly Board breakfast. Effective Jan. 1, 2005, David Studstill will become the Department's Chief Engineer. Studstill was formerly the Planning Director. Gerald Ross has been named as the new Director of Planning, Data and Intermodal Development. Brent Story will head the Office of Road and Airport Design, and Babs Abubakari has been appointed to the position of Transportation Engineering Administrator in the Office of Program Delivery/Consultant Design.

From Parkway Group: Facts, case studies
Parkway Group, LLC is made up of four partners:

·  Washington Group, International;

·  C.W. Matthews;

·  APAC-Southeast; and

·  E.R. Snell Contractor;

and is subcontracting engineering work to Post Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, Moreland Altobelli Assoc., and Gresham Smith and Partners. Consultants are Edwards-Pittman, Bear Stearns and Wilbur Smith.

The cohesive team has worked together many times before, exemplifying extensive GDOT experience with major roadway and bridge projects; significant Design-Build experience across the U.S.; and comprehensive toll road experience. The Washington Group has more than 38,000 employees and is a national leader in project development. Local partners employ more than 8,200 people and together operate 43 facilities ­ 23 contiguous to the corridor. The Parkway Group has committed to a Disadvantage Business Goal that is 50 percent higher than typically required under federal highway regulations and significantly higher than GDOT goals.

Through an innovative public/private partnership, the Parkway Group will invest millions of dollars to improve the mobility and safety of the University Parkway, a project that would take the state more than 20 years to upgrade and build under current budget constraints. The Parkway Group expects to create a model for these types of transportation improvement projects with the collaboration and participation of the communities they serve.

About the Project
From the Parkway Group

 

·  The project is a 43-mile stretch of Ga. 316 from I-85 to Ga. 10 ­ the Oconee Connector (near the Athens Loop) and crosses through Gwinnett, Barrow and Oconee counties.

·  In Barrow and Oconee counties, Ga. 316 will be converted to a limited access freeway facility. Safety improvements at existing intersections will be incorporated to provide either a grade separated interchange, overpass, or a cul-de-sac with associated frontage roads.

·  The University Parkway Concept incorporates multiple transportation solutions, providing HOV in both directions, enhancing bus service and preserving commuter rail options that will help to manage growth, reduce congestion and improve air quality in the corridor.

·  The project calls for charging tolls to improve an existing roadway, making it safer and more efficient. Its users will get a return on their investment through enhanced safety, time saved and the economic stimulus it will give to the corridor and region. The tolls will be set by the market conditions and will be competitive with the national standard for similar projects.

·  Timeline:

- Proposal Phase (6 months)

- Development Phase (18 months)

- Full Operations in 8 years

 

Originally published Sunday, December 19, 2004


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