COVINGTON, Ga. — Renderings for medians, signalized RCUTs and roundabouts along U.S. Hwy. 278 through Covington are one step closer to becoming a reality.
A Surface Transportation Block Grant in the amount of $464,800 was recently awarded to Hwy. 278 Community Improvement District (CID) and the city of Covington to cover preliminary engineering costs of Phase I of the Hwy. 278 CID Master Plan.
The Master Plan is a strategy that the Hwy. 278 CID partnered with engineering consultant firm Thomas & Hutton to draft a few years ago. Hwy. 278 CID Administrator Kathy Morgan said the plan would serve as a road map for various improvement projects along the corridor with the goals of enhancing public safety, developing a community identity, encouraging new development or redevelopment, and maximizing property owner investment. Some of those improvements currently call for roundabouts to replace various signalized intersections and installing medians along the corridor.
The grant amount of $464,800 was awarded through an Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) 2019 solicitation and is funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). To receive the grant, matching funds up to $146,000 were required. Morgan said the Hwy. 278 CID would provide 55% of matching funds with the remaining balance to be divided between the city of Covington and Newton County.
The total projected cost of the Hwy. 278 CID’s portion of Phase I, which spans from Turner Lake Road to Emory Street, is $7.07 million. There are four components to Phase I: preliminary engineering, right of way acquisition, utilities relocation, and construction. Morgan said the grant would fund just the first step to complete Phase I.
“To strategically design the Hwy. 278 CID Master Plan, we worked with the stakeholders, community representatives, city of Covington, Newton County and GDOT,” Morgan said. “This collaboration allows us the opportunity to ‘twin’ the project with the GDOT project for safety improvements in Phase I… The shared resources offer significant cost reductions for both projects. We are fortunate to partner with them for improvements to Phase I.”
GDOT’s portion of Phase I — all “inside the curb” — was about $8.8 million. Per the current plans for Phase I, GDOT would install two roundabouts — one at Emory Street and the other near Turner Lake Road — and a median throughout, with exception to West Street where they will install a signalized RCUT (Restricted Crossing U-Turn Intersection).
The Hwy. 278 CID will be tasked with funding everything “outside the curb,” which includes in the right of way to design the final plan for sidewalk or multi-use trail, utility relocation, right-of-way acquisition if needed, lighting and landscaping.
Morgan said property owners of the Hwy. 278 CID self-imposed an additional millage rate of 5 mills to fund the improvements. A grant for right of way has been recommended for 2023, and additional grants for utilities and construction also have been considered within this timeline, she said.
Thomas & Hutton was hired as program manager to administer this project for the Hwy. 278 CID and the city of Covington, Morgan said. Tasks would include writing the request for proposal (RFP) and compliance of the guidelines and specifications of the grant.
The preliminary engineering is expected to be completed within one year, barring any adverse findings in regards to utility placement, environmental studies or other criteria, Morgan said. As preliminary engineering gets underway, regular public meetings are planned to ensure property owners and other stakeholders have ample opportunities to receive plan updates and discuss public impact, she said. Phase I of the Hwy. 278 CID Master Plan is planned for completion in 2026.
“Working together with our partners, GDOT, ARC, City of Covington, and Newton County, this project will finalize the engineering to begin Phase I,” Morgan said. “The next step is right of way acquisition, utilities and construction. This will create safe transportation alternatives such as cycling and pedestrian access, creating a welcoming entrance to Covington, connecting the Cricket Frog Trail to safe access to the park/ride lot as well as shopping, dining and job opportunities along the Highway 278 corridor.”
City and county leaders were excited to see Phase I of the Hwy. 278 CID Master Plan finally get underway.
“This grant award represents a major strategic funding step aimed at improving pedestrian and traffic safety along the U.S. 278 Highway Corridor,” Covington Mayor Steve Horton said in a news release. “The Covington City Council and I extend our appreciation to the Atlanta Regional Commission for awarding us this grant. We also want to thank Administrator Kathy Grant, the local, state and private partner staff, and all those who worked long and tirelessly to get us to this point in the overall project’s progress.”