COVINGTON, Ga. — Government leaders from throughout Newton County asked state lawmakers to help them secure infrastructure funding and interact with the state in better ways Monday, Jan. 11.
Top officials with Newton County and three city governments were among those attending a series of pre-legislative session meetings with Newton County Legislative Delegation members.
Topics ranged from local mask restrictions to state funding needs for roads and sewer systems at the event hosted by the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce at the Historic Courthouse in Covington.
Local officials either gave formal presentations or informally discussed concerns needing state attention during the two-hour event.
The state lawmakers represented districts that include parts of Newton County. They traveled to Covington for the Monday afternoon meetings after being sworn in for their new terms of office at the State Capitol in Atlanta a few hours earlier.
Transportation Director Chester Clegg told lawmakers the county needed their support to gain $7.35 million in state funding for a planned widening of a three-mile stretch of Brown Bridge Road in western Newton.
The 3.2-mile segment between Crowell and Salem roads is the most heavily-traveled road maintained by the county, Clegg said.
Brown Bridge is a two-lane road with ditches on either side and no sidewalks. It handles more than 17,000 vehicles per day and is predicted to increase to 20,000 per day by 2025, Clegg said.
Its current two-lane configuration with no turn lanes, combined with its traffic volume, led to 275 reported wrecks between 2015 and 2017 — with the majority being rear-end collisions at intersecting streets, he said.
The county proposed an $18.4 million project to widen the two-lane road to add a continuous center turn lane; improve the road’s major intersection with Crowell Road; and add curb, gutter, sidewalks and drainage structures.
Clegg said the county is proposing to build it in two sections.
It is asking the state to pay $7.35 million and the county use SPLOST revenue of $3.15 million for a total of $10.5 million for widening of one section between Jack Neely and Crowell roads and intersection improvements at Crowell Road.
On the other segment between Salem and Jack Neely roads, the county is proposing to pay for 20% — about $1.58 million — and will ask the Atlanta Regional Commission to fund the remainder of the $7.9 million project.
Clegg said its existing 100-foot right of way would provide enough space to add a third lane. There are 160 properties along the road and only about 25 would need to provide land or easements, he said.
District 17 State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, said county officials also needed to contact state Transportation Board member Robert Brown about its funding request.
“That will help us,” Strickland said.
City utilities director Kevin Sorrow and Planning Director Tres Thomas said the city was considering upgrades to its east side sewer grid and needed state legislators’ support with dealing with state regulatory agencies and funding.
Sorrow said the city is considering installing larger pipes to serve the growing wastewater needs of the city’s heavily industrial northeast side and will need state Environmental Protection Division approvals and environmental permits.
Sorrow said plans call for existing 24-inch and 32-inch lines to be replaced with 36-inch and 42-inch lines.
“As we look at the growth, it’s become apparent about the needs,” he said.
He added that the city may need to expand or replace its existing treatment plant and said two options of $4 million and $7 million were being considered.
He said major challenges include securing the needed funding, as well as the permits needed to run new sewer lines under I-20.
District 112 State Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, asked if the city could contribute any of the funding. However, City Manager Scott Andrews said officials had not progressed to the point of discussing funding options.
Oxford Mayor David Eady asked the lawmakers to allow the city council to approve stronger requirements for mask usage for protection against COVID-19 than Gov. Brian Kemp had allowed.
Oxford City Council approved a resolution July 20 mandating that the public wear masks when in city buildings.
The action ran counter to Gov. Brian Kemp’s July 13 executive order that quotes state law in saying that “no local action can be more or less restrictive” than what is contained in his order, the governor’s office said in a July 13 release.
He also asked them to support city leaders’ desires to redesignate Ga. Highway 81 so tractor-trailers would be banned from the road, which is the main thoroughfare through Oxford.
Mayor G.W. Davis told the lawmakers the city is considering how to pay for a badly-needed $1 million upgrade to its wastewater disposal system.
“Anything you could do would be greatly appreciated,” he said.
Davis pleaded with them to adequately fund school systems because they often are among the top employers in small towns like Mansfield.
He said Mansfield returned its share of federal CARES funding it received from the state because it had inadequate instructions on how to spend it.
The CARES Act offered $150 billion in funding to state, local and tribal governments to help them deal with the economic impacts from COVID-19.
However, Davis said the state did not give enough guidance to local governments about how they could spend the money.
Officials with Porterdale also met with the group and discussed recent city funding shortfalls and proposed safety measures along Ga. Highway 81, among other issues.
Four of the six state lawmakers in the county’s delegation attended the series of meetings Monday, including Strickland, Belton, District 110 State Rep. Clint Crowe, R-Jackson, and District 109 State Rep. Regina Lewis-Ward, D-McDonough.
District 43 State Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, and District 113 State Rep. Sharon Henderson, D-Covington, did not attend.