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Posted: January 8, 2010 12:30 a.m.

County hopes to use stimulus to fund roads

Stoplight to go in at Ga. 212 and Oak Hill

One of the county’s "death trap" intersections, Oak Hill Road and Ga. Highway 212, should finally get a stoplight later this year.

The intersection, located in the heavily congested western corner of the county, has had at least one fatality and half a dozen serious accidents during the last three years, County Engineer Kevin Walter said.

"People waiting to go across 212 at Oak Hill look back and forth and back and forth, finally get frustrated and take a chance," Walter said. The traffic on Ga. 212 does not stop at Oak Hill. "The result is a very dangerous type of accident. The speed limit on 212 is enough to kill somebody if they're hit broadside. We’ve had lots of complains from people that can’t see — there’s no time to pull out."

On Tuesday night, the Board of Commissioners approved a task order for $114,509 to complete engineering studies for the stoplight, with the stipulation that the county receive approval to use its federal stimulus money. District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons thanked the board for voting to address what he called a death trap.

The stoplight would only be a temporary solution, lasting until the state pays for a permanent solution. At some point the state plans to widen Ga. 212 from the Oak Hill intersection, south to Bethany Road. However, the state pulled funding from this project in 2008, and the project has been moved back to 2013 at the earliest.

Stimulus money was originally not available for this intersection, but a project that was previously approved in Newton County was ruled ineligible. As of last September, the county was planning to spend $1.5 million in stimulus money to upgrade Industrial Blvd.

However, that project was ruled ineligible because Industrial Blvd. is classified as a local road. Walter said the county is going to have the road’s designation changed, but the process takes a year. The current transportation stimulus money has to be encumbered, or obligated in contracts, by March.

Therefore, Newton County chose three backup projects, of $500,000 each, to keep the stimulus money in the county. The other projects are the resurfacing of 2.5 miles Gum Creek Road, from Ga. Highway 81 north to Ellis Trail and engineering work to study the future improvements to the Almon Road corridor.

All three projects have been sent to the governor to be signed, and then must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

If the Ga. 212 and Oak Hill stoplight is approved, it’s expected to be bid out for construction by February. The construction cost is expected to take up the remaining $385,491 after engineering costs. Normally, two months would not be enough time to engineer and bid out a project, but the engineering firm Moreland Altobelli Associates has an established relationship with the Georgia Department of Transportation and will be able to cut through any red tape, Chairman Kathy Morgan said.

Walter said Gum Creek Road is in very bad shape and the road will have to be patched in several places before it can even be resurfaced. It it’s not fixed soon, water may be able to leak into the base of the road through the potholes; in which case the entire road would have to be milled up and repaved, an expensive proposition.

The Gum Creek project is expected to be approved with no problem, because it’s a construction project that will immediately put people to work, one of the goals of stimulus money.

However, the Almon Road project is still up in the air, because it’s an engineering project. Walter said there are three general steps to road construction, right-of-way purchase, engineering work and construction. Engineering work will put a few people to work, but not as much as construction. Both the GDOT and FHA have said they only want construction projects.

The GDOT recently said it was willing to let Newton County spend its money on engineering studies because of the importance of the project, but the FHA has threatened to veto the project. However, Walter said the stimulus law does not specify that money has to be used on construction, so Newton County hopes the project will be approved.

Walter said he hopes these projects will show the public how important transportation projects are. The annual public works budget is limited, and Walter said the county depends heavily on the special local option sales taxes. The next SPLOST referendum is in 2011.

"We had $20 million from the current SPLOST, and that was used for a bunch of projects, like the intersections of 20, 212 and Brown Bridge, Elks Club Road and Smith Store and the bridges over Hightower Trail and Alcovy Road," he said. SPLOST money can pay entirely for some local projects or help the county provide local match money required to receive much larger amounts of state and federal money.

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