I visited what appeared to be a sparsely attended public hearing tonight (three of eight attendees when I left at 6:10 were from the Watkinsville City Council) and came away underwhelmed. According to County Public Works Director Emil Beshara, MACORTS scaled back its plans to just what could be funded, resulting in lots of roads formerly slated to be widened (noticeably, 441 from Bishop to the county line and Hog Mountain Road to 78) off the list. A few notes from the meeting:
- According to the plan, Simonton Bridge is slated to be widened to four lanes from the River to 3rd Street in Watkinsville. It is likely that City Council will formally register its opposition to this approach tomorrow night at our monthly meeting and offer our own suggestions. Personally, I think widening Simonton Bridge beyond additional bike lanes and perhaps a center turn lane is a terrible idea and could jeopardize what is one of just a few scenic entries into Oconee County, and ruin one of the last good cycling routes in and out of Oconee County from Athens. And if Clarke County does not make commensurate improvements on their side of the river, the move makes even less sense. When I mentioned this to Emil, he stated that his (the county's) intention was to just widen and add turn lanes to Simonton Bridge (not four lanes!) and that this was not being done "for economic development purposes." Obviously, something was lost in communication to GDOT and MACORTS, as the plans clearly suggest four laning and adding turn lanes to the road.
- Union Church Road is slated to be four lanes from 53 to New High Shoals, despite none of the other roads around listed as being four-laned. This does not seem to make sense.
- Hog Mountain Road is slated for four lanes between 441 and Mars Hill. Speaking of Mars Hill, that project -- which will widen the road from University Parkway through Butler's Crossroads to Watkinsville -- is still on the list and likely to move ahead in the next few years.
- Plans are on the list for a 441 - 15 connector that would relieve truck traffic from downtown Watkinsville, an absolute positive. The only other potential new roads planned are near the extreme north end of the county near the commercial corridors along Daniell's Bridge, Jimmie Daniel, and Epps Bridge, which will no doubt be necessary as commercial grows in these areas.
- Emil did say that while 441 and other projects were not on the maps, they were in an "appendix" and could be revived at any time. I found this curious.
- Interestingly, Athens-Clarke is the only community that submitted any non-road items in the plan (commuter rail is mentioned towards the end of the plan where it was moved to the unfunded portion of the plan). While the friendly lady at the session told me it was inefficient to pursue federal funds for non-road projects, I find it odd that no sidewalks, pedestrian transportation, or bike paths are even being considered as part of the MACORTS plan in Madison or Oconee counties.