Pro­posed plans would fo­cus on projects along Brown Bridge Road and the in­ter­change of Crow­ell Road and I-20

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­

New­ton County Com­mis­sion Chair­man Keith El­lis pro­posed an ag­gres­sive and am­bi­tious se­ries of road projects de­signed to ease con­ges­tion in the western half of the county Tues­day, but he didn’t get the im­me­di­ate support he wanted.

In­stead, the com­mis­sion­ers voted to ta­ble the projects un­til their Sept. 16 meet­ing — which El­lis said pushes dan­ger­ously against the Oc­to­ber dead­line to get the plans to the At­lanta Re­gional Com­mis­sion, which is ad­min­is­ter­ing the more than $116 mil­lion in road money avail­able for cen­tral Ge­or­gia from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“You never know when fed­eral money is go­ing to come down the pike,” said El­lis, ex­cept right now. “We’ve got it com­ing.”

El­lis said of­fi­cials were given a heads up three months ago that the money might be avail­able then heard just two weeks ago that it will be. That gave them lit­tle time to put to­gether a list of ap­pli­ca­ble projects and vir­tu­ally no time left to get plans for them to­gether, thus Tues­day’s please-pass-this re­quest to the com­mis­sion.

El­lis, new County Man­ager Tom Gar­rett and county staffers have plans for four spe­cific projects: Three along Brown Bridge Road and the in­ter­change of Crow­ell Road and In­ter­state 20. If passed, the to­tal cost to the county would be $2.1 mil­lion; the feds, through ARC, would pay $8.4 mil­lion.

“We feel like the tax­pay­ers (would) ben­e­fit in a tremen­dous way,” El­lis said.

All lo­cal fund­ing would come from the 2011 SPLOST, which has enough money un­com­mit­ted, El­lis said.

Here’s a look at the four spe­cific projects El­lis wants funded:

• Crow­ell Road at I-20: Put sim­ply, there are 23 traf­fic lights at the busy in­ter­sec­tion. The project would re­lo­cate the ac­cess or frontage road south, de­creas­ing the num­ber of sig­nals and in­creas­ing the area’s traf­fic ca­pac­ity. El­lis said he and county staffers have met with DOT of­fi­cials three times about this is­sue: “We feel pretty good about that one.” The cost would be $3,080,000, with the county field­ing $616,000 of that through SPLOST.

• Brown Bridge Road at the Yel- low River: In April 2013, the county paid $30,000 for a study of the bridge, which was built in 1961 and is show­ing its age. El­lis said an av­er­age of 9,480 cars use the bridge each day, and the bridge is rated 22 per­cent on the state’s 100 per­cent suf­fi­ciency scale. That’s not good. The cost would be $4,829,090 to re­place the bridge, with the county pay­ing $965,818.

• Brown Bridge Road at Snap­ping

Shoals Creek: Built in 1963, the bridge car­ries an av­er­age of 7,000 cars per day. Again, not good. The cost to re­place it would be $2,518,000 al­to­gether, with the county pick­ing up $503,600 through SPLOST. • Brown Bridge Road cor­ri­dor study: En­gi­neers would study ways to lessen the traf­fic backup on the 4.7 miles of road from the Cov­ing­ton city lim­its west. That might in­clude turn lanes, El­lis said, “any­thing to elim­i­nate any of (the road’s many) choke­points.” The study would cost $125,000, with $25,000 com­ing from the county.

Ide­ally, El­lis said, the county could tackle its big­gest traf­fic prob­lem and widen Salem Road. But stud­ies have es­ti­mated that cost at $25 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion. Best to tackle the smaller stuff with money that’s ac­tu­ally avail­able, he said, adding that all four pro­posed projects could take some of the bur­den off Salem Road.

With that, El­lis asked for ap­proval. And the com­mis­sion hit the brakes.

Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas said he was a “lit­tle bit un­com­fort­able” with the Crow­ell Road/I-20 plan, which calls for what he called a “horse­shoe” ac­cess road far south of its cur­rent lo­ca­tion. That would re­quire con­dem­na­tions and the use of em­i­nent do­main. He said the prob­lem could be par­tially solved just by syn­chro­niz­ing stop­lights at the in­ter­change.

El­lis said the DOT has said the stop­lights are too close to­gether.

Dou­glas asked if the DOT hadn’t put them up in the first place. El­lis said they had. “The DOT put ’em up there and now they’re say­ing they’re too close to­gether?”

It was one of the light­est mo­ments in an oth­er­wise dark evening.

El­lis, smil­ing, said Gre­sham Smith Part­ners has rec­om­mended the re­align­ment of the in­ter­change as “the very best op­tion,” and the lo­cal DOT com­mis­sioner has said he sup­ports it.

Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz said she didn’t want to post­pone a vote on the projects be­cause cham­ber of com­merce of­fi­cials have told her busi­nesses are al­ready con­cerned about traf­fic at the in­ter­change. If fed­eral money is avail­able to fix it, she said, the county should ap­ply for it.

“It’s crit­i­cal” to fix the in­ter­change, she said. “We don’t want to take any chance that we might miss out on this money.”

But Com­mis­sioner Le­vie Mad­dox cor­rectly pointed out that ARC has said the dead­line for ap­pli­ca­tions is Oc­to­ber, with no pre­cise date an­nounced. He said com- mis­sion­ers needed a bit more time to study the projects as pro­posed be­fore spend­ing county money.

“Per­son­ally, I don’t feel like I have enough in­for­ma­tion on this, enough clar­ity,” he said.

Dou­glas said a vote Tues­day night would be a “first step, no go­ing back.

“I don’t see any point in spend­ing any money right now un­til we know for sure what we’re go­ing to do.”

Schulz asked Gar­rett if the county could com­plete the ap­pli­ca­tions if the com­mis­sion­ers de­layed ap­proval un­til their Sept. 16 meet­ing. Gar­rett said he served at the county’s be­hest. So Schulz made a mo­tion to ta­ble the plans un­til the 16th; it passed unan­i­mously.

Dar­rell Everidge/The Cov­ing­ton News

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