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4-4-11 Review of TSPLOST Transportation Projects for Oconee & Area Counties

Morgan County and Chairman Mack Bohlen are to be commended for including their section of US 441….. ......................... Morgan County – BOC Chairman Lake Oconee News -3.25.11 – US 441 Widening - “The county is also requesting regional help for rights-of-way acquisition and related work on a stalled stretch• of U.S. 441 widening through Morgan from the Putnam to Oconee county lines. Although plans are to widen the feder¬al highway to four limes with a divided median throughout its path across Georgia and other states, the project has stalled in Morgan, BOC chairman Mack Bohlen said. "1 think that any money we could earmark to this very important effort would help get it back in play," he said.’

AVOC

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April 1, 2011

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Review of Regional Transportation Projects for Oconee & Area Counties -TSPLOST

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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Oconee is a crossroads for several major intersecting highways: GA 316, US 441, US 78, GA 15, GA 53, Loop 10 etc.    In the 90’s with ACORTS (Athens Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study), we pressed for inclusion of several major transportation projects.    They were as follows:

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            1.       Upgrade of GA 316 and Interchange Right of Way was acquired in the late 90’s at the Oconee Connector and at Jimmy Daniell Road and sits idle;

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            2.         Four lane upgrade of U S 441 from the N C state line to the FL line;   Most of it has been accomplished except for the section from Watkinsville through most of Morgan County.   During that time, both Oconee and Morgan County shared a State Representative.   The section between Watkinsville would connect the Athens Area, GA 316 and I-85 areas with I-20.    This goal helped us get approval for the widening of GA 53 and Mars Hill Road Project with regional importance;

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US 441 being widened in North Athens-Clarke & Jackson County in 2006

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            3.         Upgrade of GA Highway 53 (Experiment Road) and Mars Hill Road from US 441 to GA 316;

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            4.         A connecting road between GA 15 and U S 441 south of Watkinsville and improvements to GA 15 in Oconee County as has been accomplished in counties south of Oconee;

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            5.         A traffic routing plan around the GA 316 – Epps Bridge commercial area to allow more traffic mobility and avoid the “Mess at the Mall” in Athens;  Oconee.Connector.Jennings.Mill.Pkwy.Project.3.08.pdfx

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RECENT- TSPLOST:

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Unfortunately, our current commissioners seem to lack vision and a regional approach to projects.   They have not pushed the US 441 improvement project or the Mars Hill Road four-lane project.    Instead, the Oconee Connector is being built piecemeal and at considerable expense to encourage development.   The primary goal for that project when it was approved in the late 90’s was to provide frontage roads and a corridor for traffic to avoid the congestion of getting on and off GA 316.

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Voters are scheduled to go to the polls on August 21, 2012, to vote on a regional one cent sales tax for Transportation projects.  Area counties have been busy compiling wish lists.   It is interesting to view the projects.   Many are more local than regional.   All total much more than the amount of tax expected to be raised.   In the 12 county NEGA Region, the tax is estimated to raise approximately $ 1 Billion over ten years (2013 -2023).   Projects being submitted by area counties are detailed at this link:

       TSPLOST Projects Lists for NEGA Area Counties 3-2011.pdfx

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Oconee’s project list includes some improvements to interchanges on GA 316.   However, it left out some ‘biggies”; one being the four-laning of US 441 from Watkinsville to the County line and on to Madison & Interstate 20.   Cost was the reason given for US 441 improvements being deleted though state and Federal funds will help with the costs.

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Morgan County and Chairman Mack Bohlen are to be commended for including their section of US 441 from Madison to the Oconee County line.

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Morgan County – BOC Chairman Lake Oconee News -3.25.11 – US 441 Widening.

“The county is also requesting regional help for rights-of-way acquisition and related work on a stalled stretch· of U.S. 441 widening through Morgan from the Putnam to Oconee county lines.Although plans are to widen the feder­al highway to four limes with a divided median throughout its path across Georgia and other states, the project has stalled in Morgan, BOC chairman Mack Bohlen said."1 think that any money we could earmark to this very important effort would help get it back in play," he said.’

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Oconee also left out the Flyover at the Loop and Daniell’s Bridge Road, part of a 15 year plan to allow traffic to circulate around the GA 316-Epps Bridge Road commercial node and avoid the traffic mess like at the Georgia Square Mall.    NIMBYism caused the deletion of the Loop Flyover.   That will come back to haunt us when the big commercial development comes as anticipated on the Loop and the Interchange cloverleaf is built at GA 316 and the Connector.

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Oconee has included a new and previously unheard of project to connect Gainesville College to Oconee Veterans Parkway (Watkinsville By-Pass).    This proposal evidently has development or political influence.   It is doubtful that another Interchange can be built that near to the GA 53 – US 441 Interchange.   ROW was acquired in the 90’s to make the existing interchange into a cloverleaf.

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There is no mention of the GA 15 Connector in the Oconee Plan.   U S 441 and GA 15 are major North-South corridors for State Traffic.   They intersect in Watkinsville.   Anyone using or observing those roads on GA Football Game days or when students are arriving or departing Athens knows the tremendous volume of traffic.

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I would not be surprised to see the GA DOT add US 441 to the projects.   Hopefully, they will.


FOR BACKGROUND, SEE:

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

          http://www.avoc.info/info/article.php?article=4091

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

          http://www.avoc.info/info/article.php?article=2140&ENGINEsessID=cd12bb9caba9f6919d2a69d4bf82bc39

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7-8-05 Transportation Issues in Georgia-GA 316

          http://www.avoc.info/info/article.php?article=2948&ENGINEsessID=cd12bb9caba9f6919d2a69d4bf82bc39

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12-26-00 - My last newsletter as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners

           http://www.avoc.info/info/article.php?article=628&ENGINEsessID=cd12bb9caba9f6919d2a69d4bf82bc39

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TRANSPORTATION AND ROADS:  There are many projects in various stages of progression and they are funded and scheduled in many different ways:

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Federal & State ProjectsDECEMBER 26, 2000

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1.        U S 441 widening between Watkinsville and the Athens Loop is nearing completion, hopefully by the first of 2001;

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2.        Widening of U S 441 between Watkinsville and Madison (Interstate 20) is still in the environmental assessment stage and because of limited state funding for GRIP projects keeps getting pushed further and further into the future.    It needs completion for safety purposes (the ‘30’s design curves have been involved in fatal accidents for decades) and the need to improve access to Interstate 20 for the entire region.  Morgan and Oconee Counties need to continue to press for this project to be given higher priority because U S 441 is the route used by much of the state to come to Northeast GA.

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State and Local Projects:

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1.  GA 53-Mars Hill Widening from Watkinsville to GA 316 is in the engineering stage.  ROW acquisition is currently scheduled for State FY 01-02, meaning after July 1. Oconee County is engineering this project at a cost of approximately 1 million dollars and the county will be responsible for 20% of the cost of utility relocation.   The State and Federal funding will pay the cost of ROW and construction, to be in the millions.  It will take several years to complete this project which is the main north-south corridor in Oconee County.  It was designed for rural, farm type traffic as opposed to the more urban traffic it will handle now and even more over the next several years.    This project has some local ROW issues to be worked out but has good support from DOT personnel in the district and state planning offices though there have been rumors that some funding may be redirected to make up for the imbalance of funding among Districts.  It is committed in the state and federal programs and local and state officials need to be vigilant to keeping it on schedule to avoid gridlock in a few years.

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2.  Jennings Mill Parkway-Oconee Connector Linking: The county has done some preliminary engineering and the State has contracted with the county to build this project with State and Federal funds (total cost estimated at 8-9 million dollars).   This is part of the county’s master transportation plan to facilitate the flow of local traffic and avoid gridlock at the 316 intersection.   The DOT district and state planning offices support this plan.   The county and state have executed a project contract for this project that will take several years.  It is a vital link in Oconee’s transportation plan in the area and also will allow safe and facilitated traffic flow for local residents and customers of the commercial activities in the area.

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3.    Improvements to Simonton Bridge Road: This road needs widening, lowering of hills, and lessening of curves for safety and traffic load reasons.   It is scheduled in the long-range tier of State/Federal projects.  Meanwhile, some areas can be improved, in phases, with local funding and the use of county road department personnel and equipment and local contractors.

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4.   GA 15- U S 441 Connector - south of Watkinsville: This project is in the long-range plan of ACORTS and will take years to be funded.  At some point the county will have to start the engineering to get it going before development happens in its path.   It will allow more through traffic to go around downtown Watkinsville.

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5.  Bogart-GA 316 Interchange: This project is long range although the county has done some preliminary engineering and the Development Authority has acquired much of the ROW.   It has been approved by DOT for a future interchange for the upgrade of 316.   The county, and commercial developers will need to help do parts in phases - similar to the Oconee Connector.  It is vital to access to Bogart and the Recreation Complex in the area.

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

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

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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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