Even the lure of letting the state fork over $1.4 million wasn’t enough to get one commissioner to approve a study that could lead to a traffic circle on Antioch Road and Highway 92.
At Thursday night’s commission meeting, commissioner Randy Ognio raised concerns over the proposal by the Georgia Department of Transportation to take advantage of the opportunity presented by county engineer Phil Mallon.
“It’s a unique offer,” he noted as he told commissioners that GDOT was looking for a letter of support from the commission to begin moving the idea along. “They will do the design, permitting, right of way acquisition and construction at zero cost to the county. We just have to pick up the future electrical and landscaping costs.”
Mallon also noted that just because the offer was made and the commissioners agree to support it, there’s no guarantee the project will be built, or when it will be built.
“The money still has to come from GDOT. There is justification for the project,” he added, saying this roundabout had been an idea for at least eight years, “maybe longer.”
According to GDOT a roundabout at this location may be an appropriate intersection control and it is offering to further study a roundabout to see if it is a feasible alternative. If it is feasible, GDOT would fund the design, the right-of-way acquisition, utility and construction phases of the project. No local match would be required with the exception of the county being responsible for electricity costs for lighting and post-construction landscape maintenance. Utility costs are estimated to be approximately $1,840 per year. The overall project is expected to carry a $1.2 million price tag that the state will be picking up.
Intersection improvements for Antioch Road and State Route 92 were identified in the 2004 SPLOST Resolution (No. FC-11) and also identified in the County's 2010 Comprehensive Transportation Plan. A 2008 traffic study of the area by GDOT showed a more immediate need, but it wasn’t overwhelming, as they identified safety issues, updating crash information from the sheriff’s office.
“If you’re familiar with the area, it’s not a comfortable intersection to negotiate. Another thing that makes the roundabout worth considering is the configuration of the road. If we went to a traditional traffic signal the impact could be significant and it’s not a real good option under the traditional perpendicular intersection.”
Mallon said the roundabouts were becoming more popular in the southeastern states, with Georgia having over 300 of them. Roundabouts were looked at as being safer than traffic signals and four-way stops.
“They’re more efficient. One of the advantages,” he said, “is that it can bring traffic in at a different angle. It’s an easier geometry. With some cases, it’s just less footprint and more cost.”
Additionally, two studies from different sources point out that these roundabouts reduce the number of crashes and accidents and, when there is an accident, the injuries and fatalities drop because they occur at slower speeds.
“GDOT is slowly embracing roundabouts and the process for selecting a roundabout is not a random act. This is just one of the steps along the way. It doesn’t mean it will happen. If the board votes in favor, it advances further into the competition other entities in the state. They are looking for roundabouts. This is a number one position for Fayette County.”
County commissioner Charles Oddo said he was willing to vote to be supportive of the GDOT moving for a feasibility study and then moving forward.
“I think it’s reasonable to reply back that we are in agreement with the general concept but would want to see the exact plans before totally supporting it.”
None of this was enough to convince Ognio that a roundabout at that location was a good idea.
“We’re looking at a major impact on 92. It’s going to make vehicles slow down. The speed limit there is 45 and it has a lot of traffic. You’re talking about slowing these vehicles way down. I think this could be a major problem. Seay Road is going to be impacted.”
Ognio said he had a problem with the state wanting to move forward on the design and ‘waste money which could create more problems than it solves. What about building roads for future traffic? If we do ever build the East Fayetteville Bypass, will that alleviate the problem?”
He also noted that the last traffic survey done for the area didn’t show any major safety concerns at the intersection.
“Any money we get from GDOT, we need to use wisely and put in a plan. It could be an eyesore in our rural county character in that area. Are we going to put roundabouts everywhere? They are not a cure-all everywhere. I’m not at a point that I’m willing to move forward. GDOT could hold us to this,” Ognio said.
Local environmentalist Dennis Chase rose to say that in his 28 years in the county, he’s had three near-death experiences on that stretch of roadway.
“People coming out of Antioch Road are taking their lives in their hands. Is there any way this consideration could include Harp Road. That’s almost as bad. We’re going to need to do something. If we haven’t had a death here yet, it’s going to happen soon.”
Ognio said that “92 is heavily traveled, with a steady stream of cars, all running 55 m.p.h.; When you slow those down, it’s going to back up past Seay and Harp Road and going to cause an issue there. It will be more of a problem with Seay and Harp Road then it is now. The answer for this intersection might be more than including Antioch Road. We need to look at this things, sit down and plan, not just throw money at it. DOT money is precious to us.”
Mallon said it was “reasonable to ask for a study addressing those kind of issues, ask how it will impact the area if it could be expanded. I don’t know if we could get a comparison study against a traffic signal. We may or may not, unless we pay for it with our own funds.”
Ultimately board chairman Steve Brown moved that the board approve the request that the county show its interest in seeing the results of the feasibility study, after which they can further discuss the issue with GDOT and allow for public comment before moving forward.
The move passed, four to one, with Ognio holding hard to his stance.