The County Board of Commissioners decided at Thursday night’s meeting that they aren’t ready to ask GDOT to cease their McDonough Road widening project, but they are eager to address some pivotal concerns.
Commissioner Steve Brown proposed a resolution to ask GDOT to kill the project, and, while he did not get the support needed to pass the resolution, much of the Board expressed a desire for answers regarding the project and its potential impact on Fayette County. Brown wants to send a message that Fayette has “extreme concerns” on how the project could funnel dangerous amounts of traffic into downtown Fayetteville, a spot with no means to disperse it.
“They are making a very straight, high-speed, high-capacity urban highway from 75 to Fayetteville. GDOT does not do that because they’re a benevolent organization and they’re trying to find some places to spend money,” Brown said of the project that would, in several phases, re-route traffic from the I-75 corridor all the way to State Road 54. “The unfortunate part is it takes them to downtown Fayetteville, and there is no way to disperse the volume of traffic that we are going to be seeing in future years.”
Brown said he has yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for how GDOT will mitigate the increased traffic pouring into Fayetteville.
“As the representatives of the citizens of Fayette County, we deserve an explanation for what is going to happen when that traffic, that increased volume, hits 54,” said Brown. “If you can’t resolve any of those issues, you’re costing us a significant amount of money. We are going to be forced to resolve those problems, and we’re going to have to deal with the traffic.”
While he expressed a willingness to hear more from the state, Brown said that from his experience working with them over many years, GDOT best responds to consistent and persistent pressure.
“(GDOT) is a dinosaur that just moves in any direction it wants to move. If you don’t get the dinosaur’s attention, you’re in trouble,” said Brown, adding there is too much riding on it to be passive. “For the love of God, let’s do something and send them a message.”
The key sticking points for some commissioners and staff is the damage widening will do to the Public Works headquarters and McCurry Park. Public Works would lose much of their parking lot and have access limited. McCurry Park would also lose much of their access.
Public Works Director Phil Mallon expressed optimism that GDOT will agree to work with the county to address their concerns.
“The impacts are so extreme, I can’t conceive how GDOT will not say we need to address this once they fully understand it,” said Mallon, adding, “I view this as an opportunity to greatly enhance that whole corridor. I think we should be pushing for a bridge over McDonough Road to connect the north and south part of (McCurry Park).”
Commissioner Randy Ognio noted that he had recently learned that the project actually dates back to 1994, though no work has been done until recently. The BOC at the time agreed to still maintain McDonough Road as it became a state route with the understanding that GDOT would widen it. The history of the project makes a response tricky, he said, and he was not eager to rush to conclusions.
“The issue is they’ve planned for it and it is a state route. We’re probably not going to stop it totally, but we have been in talks with them to try to make some adjustments to it to try to prevent it from crippling our parks and public works,” said Ognio. “I worry that passing this resolution will end the talks and they’ll just do whatever they want.”
Commissioner Charles Oddo said he was disheartened by the call to kill the project that had been on the books since 1994.
“GDOT’s been working with the county for 24 years, and now we’re going to say no,” he said, also referencing a recent debate whether or not to ask GDOT to stop a project to put two roundabouts on SR 92. “I’m wondering when GDOT’s going to say ‘To heck with Fayette County. If we can’t rely on working with the Board of Commissioners from one commission to the next after one has committed to something, then we can’t work with that county.'”
Brown’s resolution to ask GDOT to cease the project was not adopted, but a compromise was reached for County Attorney Dennis Davenport and the Transportation Committee to review the language in the resolution in advance of GDOT meeting with the individual commissioners in late June.
“I think this is a little premature to vote on this until we actually have that conversation to see what they’re going to bring to us,” said Ognio, also a member of the Transportation Committee. “I think it wouldn’t be in good faith to pass this now without hearing what they have to say.”
Mallon said the county should have time to craft a response. A new concept for the project will likely be done in early 2019, and it is unlikely to see bulldozers breaking ground for three or four years.