Bishop mayor, state legislator criticize DOT on 441 widening

The Georgia Department of Transportation endured some criticism this week by both Bishop Mayor Johnny Pritchett and State Rep Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville).

 

Pritchett recently asked Oconee County commissioners to help him and others oppose a GDOT proposal for widening U.S. Highway 441.

GDOT has proposed widening the highway to four lanes from outside Watkinsville to below Farmington, where it will join a portion of U.S. 441 that’s already been widended.

Additionally, the proposed plan state transportation officials unveiled in March includes widening the highway to three lanes as it passes through Bishop and installing roundabouts at intersections in the northern and southern ends of town.

Pritchett and others in Bishop vehemently oppose the plan, saying it would route too much noisy truck traffic through the little town. In addition, he told commissioners, the road just isn’t wide enough going through town to do what traffic engineers propose without encroaching on buildings.

“It will put tractor-trailers right on the curb of the existing side of the southbound lane,” he said. “It would be detrimental to the town of Bishop and it would be unsafe.”

Pritchett wants GDOT to build a bypass around Bishop, a solution proposed by traffic engineers years ago.

But a Bishop bypass is controversial, too, and opposed by other people in Oconee County.

Should GDOT follow a route proposed 20 years ago, the bypass would cut through historic farms in the county.

On the other side, a bypass could cut through University of Georgia-owned property.

Pritchett also said he and other property owners along Highway 441 had received letters from lawyers offering help during the process of state property acquisition. The state GDOT had told the law firm about the 441 project, he said.

Williams said he asked state officials about the letter and they had told him, “In no shape, form or fashion did this come from our attorneys.” He called the letters a “fishing expedition” by a law firm looking to drum up some business.

The law firm had gotten old maps of possible bypass routes that had been made public years ago, he said.

State transportation officials have said they’re starting anew in the planning process for the widening project.

Though the state transportation department only has presented to the public the aforementioned widening project, GDOT commissioner Russell McMurry assured Williams, state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and others in a May 15 meeting that a route for the widening project has not been determined, Williams said.

“We were somewhat surprised” to hear McMurry’s assertion, Williams said.

But GDOT hasn’t been communicating very well, he said.

“GDOT, some of their messaging and what-not has been less than perfect,” he said.

Williams noted that GDOT hasn’t communicated anything regarding a construction timeline as they said they would, Williams said.

“Let’s continue to keep a close eye on the process,” Williams told commissioners. “If I see GDOT not fulfilling their commitment to this community, I’ll be the first one, hopefully with you standing there with us, to call their hand on it.”

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

 

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