The County Board of Commissioners is getting closer to formulating a formal response to GDOT’s proposed plans to widen McDonough Road. Time is on their side, as construction on the project, first approved in 1994, has now been pushed back an additional 20 years.
GDOT was supposed to be meeting with county officials soon to discuss the project, but they cancelled the meeting and have again delayed the project. On May 30, GDOT sent a letter to the commissioners notifying them that the project had been delayed again, with right-of-way funding moved to 2035 and construction and utility funding to 2038 because of budgetary constraints.
It also asked for additional commitments from the county.
“If this project is a priority to Fayette County, the Department recommends that a signed resolution be provided indicating that the above referenced project is a priority. Additionally, the Department would also like for Fayette County to identify funding commitments for the above referenced project if the project is deemed a priority,” said GDOT Director of Planning Jay Roberts in the letter.
On top of news that the state is pushing the project out into the distant future, Commissioner Steve Brown is again pressing his colleagues to consider asking GDOT to cease their plans altogether. Broached back at the March 22 meeting and tabled to the May 10 meeting, the other commissioners weren’t quite ready to approve Brown’s resolution and instead asked that the county’s Transportation Committee mull over the response. That came back at Thursday’s meeting, and the commissioners weren’t yet satisfied.
Commissioner Randy Ognio, himself a member of the Transportation Committee, said that some of its members felt compelled to move forward towards some type of resolution so that the county doesn’t have to keep maintaining the road.
Currently, Fayette pays to maintain the road as part of its initial approval of the project in 1994. While GDOT has yet to kick off major work on the project, Fayette has been on the hook the whole time.
Brown said he was “disheartened” by the committee’s suggested resolution.
“It didn’t address the significant issues we have with infrastructure related to this project,” he said.
He was clear he had no interest in sending the resolution as written by the transportation committee.
“Rather than send something that says we think it’s a priority to put an urban highway with increased speeds and increased capacity from I-75 to downtown Fayetteville with no recognition of what happens beyond the beginning and the terminus, I think it’s a dreadful mistake, I would rather not do a resolution at all if we’re not going to list our concerns,” he said.
Commissioner Charles Oddo again cautioned how a response might affect the county’s overall working relationship with GDOT.
“I think what they’re looking for is something positive from this Board of Commissioners indicating there’s interest in this road,” he said. “Whether it has funding or not, at this point we just need to talk to them about it.”
Shutting off communications on this project could affect any others in the pipeline.
“Doing a resolution of support now is letting GDOT know we want to talk about it, and voting no is telling GDOT we don’t want to talk about it,” he said, urging a need to get the conversation back on track. “It’s more than just this project that we’ve got going with GDOT. We need to get a relationship with them. We need to work at it, and they need to work at it.”
Brown was unwilling to give in to GDOT’s requests.
“They’ve stopped the project dead in its tracks, and they won’t answer a single question that we’ve given them, and we’ve been asking them the same questions since 2013,” said Brown. “Do we really want them to move on something where we have absolutely no idea what they’re thinking? And then they ask us for money on the backend and they still don’t answer our questions. That’s criminal in my mind. I would never agree to that.”
Oddo’s motion to send the resolution from the transportation committee failed 2-3, with Brown, Eric Maxwell, and Charles Rousseau in opposition. Instead, the agreed compromise is to have County Administrator Steve Rapson and staff collect the thoughts of the commissioners and pull together a draft of a letter for them to review and vote on at the July 12 meeting.