Members of the Porterdale City Council met with Newton County Engineer Kevin Walter, County Commission Chairman Kathy Morgan, District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming and representatives of engineering consulting company, LPA Group Incorporated, to see a first glimpse of the proposal for a signalized intersection at Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road.
Walter gave everyone attending a brief history of the project — one Mayor Bobby Hamby knows all too well as he and past council members have been actively working on improving the busy intersection since 1995.
"It’s been known for a very long time that this was a needed improvement," Walter said.
In 2008, the Georgia Department of Transportation cancelled state construction funding for the project, thereby voiding a letter of intent from the former council and commission regarding matching funds. Last year Newton County hired the LPA Group, an independent engineering consulting firm, to analyze the intersection and draw a preliminary design for improvements. In September 2009, city and county officials met with the district 2 GDOT commissioner to submit a traffic study as well as reports about the need for signalization of the intersection.
According to Kelly Cory of LPA, the first thing she and fellow engineer Al Bowman looked at was the original GDOT design for the intersection. Taking into account the amount of traffic that courses through the intersection each day – approximately 9,000 according to 2007 numbers – and figuring a 3 percent annual growth to design year 2034, they found an alternate plan would make more sense.
Like the original GDOT plan, LPA thought it was necessary to signalize both Crowell and 81 as well as 81 and the 162 Connector.
"It is a safety issue," Cory said of the 162 signal. "I think because the people are waiting and waiting to turn left and there’s no gap and they just decide to go for it."
Also, since the two intersections are so close together, approximately 500 feet, Cory said side-by-side left turn lanes between the two instead of back-to-back left turn lanes, as in the original GDOT design, would allow more room for cars stopped at both red lights.
"This obviously does create the need for widening," Walter said.
In addition to widening, LPA suggested three right turn lanes for all approaches of the Crowell/81 intersection except for the right turn from 81 onto Crowell Road heading toward Interstate 20.
Councilman Robert Foxworth worried whether large trucks would be able to make a right turn there without a turn lane. Bowman assured him that the design incorporated a 75-foot turn radius and the state required a minimum of a 50-foot radius.
Councilmembers applauded LPA’s addition of signalized crosswalks at the 81/Crowell intersection, but had some concern about the two back alley entrances closest to the intersection becoming barricaded and therefore, inaccessible. Councilwoman Linda Finger said those back alleys are the only means of parking those residents have; Finger’s own home would be affected.
"But I won’t scream and holler if I don’t get exactly what I want," Finger said. "We need to do what’s best."
The council encouraged Cory and Bowman to explore other options such as driveway aprons or cul-de-sacs to alleviate residents from having to go out of their way to enter the highway.
Hamby had other concerns and conversation became heated while he aired them. Hamby was concerned with the impact on three properties north of the intersection where right of ways would need to be extended because of the road widening. He also complained that lanes were not quite aligned and that the county had left the council out of the design process.
"The thing we ought to be clear about is that it’s a preliminary concept design," Bowman said. "It’s a rough draft."
"LPA is a totally neutral party. They have no ax to grind about where this road goes," Walter added, "It’s a little immature to quibble about 5 feet here or there."
Bowman said LPA met with the council tonight to hear the council’s concerns and suggestions and would create alternate designs for them to review. He said shrinking lanes from 12 to 11 feet might minimize the impact to the affected properties.
Morgan assured Hamby that she, Fleming and Walter were there because the commission wished to partner with the city because they felt the project was critical.
Hamby also noted that in a previous traffic study it was found that only 10 percent of those driving through the intersection are residents of Porterdale and that when the county built the Bypass it created much more congestion in the town. He encouraged the council to consider those factors when deciding how much money to commit to the project.
"The county has got to step up to the fact that this is the county’s problem more than the citizens of Porterdale," Hamby said, also noting that the city needed to work on several other street projects and that their SPLOST fund only contained around $409,000.
Morgan said the county did not have a blank check to write and that the best way to secure matching state funds was to commit what funding they could and submit a good design to GDOT. She said the county had success last year with road projects at Ga. Highway 212 and 20 as well as Smith Store Road because of strong analysis and design.
"We’re going to get this done," Fleming added, "but we’ve got to be on the same page."
Councilmembers Foxworth and Arline Chapman agreed, saying that future positive growth of Porterdale, especially along the city’s annexed land on the Bypass, rested upon the improvement of the intersection.
The group plans to meet again in early March to review the revisions to LPA’s design and further discuss funding.