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5-25-10 Oconee Connector Project Over Loop- Economic Opportunity or ‘Road to nowhere’ or Both

…….We wanted traffic to and from this commercial node to be able to access businesses without having to get on and off GA 316 or the Epps Bridge Parkway. It was Oconee’s attempt to avoid the ‘Mall Mess” on Highway 78 in Athens-Clarke County….

AVOC

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May 23, 2010

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Oconee Connector Project Over Loop- Economic Opportunity or ‘Road to nowhere’ or Both

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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With the approaching opening of the Oconee Connector Bridge over the Athens Loop, I have mixed emotions.   I was involved in the initial concept and the approval of the project by GA DOT.   However, it was intended to be built after the Mars Hill Road Parkway so it would feed into a four-lane system.    Economic Development was a consideration but traffic flow was the real incentive.  

Oconee.Connector.Jennings.Mill.Pkwy.Project.3.08.pdfx

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We wanted traffic to and from this commercial node to be able to access businesses without having to get on and off GA 316 or the Epps Bridge Parkway.   It was Oconee’s attempt to avoid the ‘Mall Mess’ on Highway 78 in Athens-Clarke County.It also involved a Jennings Mill Parkway to Atlanta Highway to help with the traffic flow at Athens Loop.

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Plans change.   Athens-Clarke did not follow through on its end of the Jennings Mill Parkway.Oconee proceeded to move the Oconee Connector project ahead of the Mars Hill widening project.   To some, it was the proverbial act of, ‘…getting the cart before the horse”.

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With the economic slowdown, the Oconee Connector project seems inconsistent with funding priorities in transportation.   The Mars Hill Parkway would make more sense to most people.

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The Oconee Connector will open the old Varsity Property and some other smaller tracts for commercial purposes but it may be a while before it is the revenue producer that some Oconee Officials seem to expect.    Oconee and Athens has a lot of vacant commercial property –including shopping centers.   If it does bring a Pennys, Belks or Sears, it will leave vacant buildings somewhere and bring the traffic jams into Oconee County.It may be rushing things.   After all, we have not yet filled all our commercial buildings in Oconee County.

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It has been encouraging that the county now seems to be pursuing the Mars Hill Project more aggressively; delay has resulted in much more Right of Way expense.   It will be a while before it helps traffic flow.This project should have been far enough along in plans to have qualified for some of the Federal Stimulus money.

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Slower traffic ahead Monday – ABH – 5.23.10

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/052310/new_643141028.shtml

….contingent of officers will start pacing traffic Monday on the Athens Perimeter north of the Epps Bridge Parkway exit so a state Department of Transportation contractor can install the large concrete cross beams for an overpass that is part of the Oconee Connector extension.

   …………..Beshara said. "We're going to be putting the beams in place on an overpass that's part of the Oconee Connector project, over the (Georgia Highway) 10 Loop. We plan to start Monday, but of course that depends totally on the weather."

    It will take workers about three days to get the beams in place, and traffic will be paced the entire time, he said. Work crews will try to avoid pacing during rush hours.

    Public works and the DOT have been working for years to extend the Oconee Connector north of Ga. 316, over the perimeter and into the heart of the county's commercial hub on Epps Bridge Parkway.

     The new road is expected to open up large tracts of land for development.

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Oconee Connector Progress 12-09 to 5-23-10

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Oconee Connector at Loop 12-09

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Oconee Connector at Jennings Mill & Athens Loop –Feb 2010

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Oconee Connector at Jennings Mill & Athens Loop –May 23, 2010

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Oconee Connector – New South Bound Lane approaching GA 316 - May 23, 2010


4-7-08 Oconee Connector $ 26 million Project is more than a Name Change

6-21-08 Questions About Melvin Davis’ $ 26 Million Road Project

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7-24-08 Oconee GA DOT Projects (Mars Hill and Oconee Connector) results of efforts of many folks besides Melvin Davis and Bob Smith

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Both of these projects were approved by DOT Commissioner Wayne Shackelford in the late 90’s while I was Chairman and our Representative was Frank Stancil and our Senator was Paul Broun.   Both of those gentlemen had tremendous influence and accompanied me on numerous occasions to the GA DOT.   They, along with DOT Board Member Steve Reynolds, helped us with the award of those projects. 

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To See Compatibility of Mars Hill Parkway and Oconee Connector, SEE:

Oconee.Connector.Jennings.Mill.Pkwy.Project.3.08.pdfx

As Oconee Chairman and as an active participant in ACORTS, now MACORTS, I worked with both projects.   The Four-Lane Parkway between Watkinsville and the Athens Loop was the lead project.  Engineering had been in the works at least two years before Melvin Davis took office.

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Over the last several years, I have followed the progress of these projects and how the Mars Hill Corridor project was “pushed into” Long Range Status.   At the same time, the Oconee Connector Interchange has turned into a $ 25-30 Million project and is scheduled to start this year.

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Both projects have merit.   However, more traffic in the Epps Bridge Area can turn into a situation like the Atlanta Highway “Mall Mess”.     More traffic (gridlock) resulting from increasing construction of commercial venues feeding into two lane roads will spell trouble for Oconee County Citizens in a few short years.


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