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Highway 67 project on back burner

U.S. 80 improvements also in federal funding wish list

Highway 67 project on back burner

Highway 67 project on back burner

Congressman John Barrow discusses pro...


The widening of Georgia Highway 67 — Statesboro’s Fair Road — to four lanes down to Interstate 16 shows up as a $36.4 million item in the proposed Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, with right-of-way purchases funded in 2016 and construction “after 2017.” It’s Bulloch County’s biggest project in the $4 billion, four-year improvement program. 
Georgia Department of Transportation staff members hosted an open house in the Bulloch County Commissioners’ boardroom Thursday to inform people about the statewide plan for putting federal tax dollars to use on highway projects. The open house was for residents from anywhere in the 24-county Transportation District 5, served by the DOT office in Jesup.
In fact, the only funding for the Highway 67 widening included in the 2014-17 proposed STIP is $7.65 million for right-of-way acquisition. The “after 2017” note means the actual paving falls beyond the scope of the current funding plan.
“That’s a pretty good indicator that it’s going to be a while,” Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch said. “I think right-of-way and utilities have been a slow process.”
Interviewed prior to the open house, Couch noted that the Highway 67 project involves a relatively long section of road. It’s 10.86 miles from where Fair Road currently narrows near the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds to I-16, by the DOT’s measurement. The presence of historic buildings and wetlands has also complicated the design work, Georgia DOT District 5 Communications Officer Jill Nagel said.
Some of these factors were discussed at a previous open house, specifically on the Highway 67 project, held at the same location in August 2012.
But the biggest holdup facing large projects on the list is probably the availability of federal and state money, Couch said. He noted that the Highway 67 widening has been a top priority of local officials for more than a decade but has repeatedly been pushed into the future. Although spanning four years, the STIP is updated annually, and last year’s version slated the right of way acquisition for 2015, with construction “after 2016.”
“I’m not entirely optimistic that it would be done by the end of this decade, but if they surprise me, they’d please a lot of people,” Couch said.
Notably, although the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program list shows projects for Bulloch County with estimated costs totaling a little more than $51 million, only $18 million in projected funding is assigned to specific years in the four-year scope of the program or as “lump sum” spending. Everything else is beyond the four years.
With a few exceptions statewide, the projects call for 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funding. For example, the Highway 67 project’s $28 million construction phase is slated to draw $5.6 million from state coffers in addition to $22.4 in federal funding.
No sequestration problem
The federal spending cuts known as “sequestration” have not affected highway projects much, said U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga. But he acknowledged that highway funding has declined, in part because of reduced fuel consumption. Federal fuel taxes are charged per gallon rather than per dollar.
“The sequester hasn’t affected the status of highway investment in infrastructure that much because it runs on dedicated sources of revenue. The gasoline tax is the primary source,” Barrow said. “The challenge there is that as we’re going further on fewer gallons of gas and actually consuming less, the amount of revenues being generated by this dedicated source is not keeping up with the demand for maintaining the roads.”
So, he said, Congress is looking for ways to fund roadwork that make more sense for the future while ensuring that the people who benefit the most from the roads pay their share.
The projected costs of the Highway 67 widening have been reduced from earlier versions of the plan. The previous improvement program showed a total estimate of $51.1 million, with construction alone projected at almost $39.4 million and right-of-way at $11.2 million. But engineers at the August 2012 project open house indicated they were making design changes that would lower the price tag.
GDOT will hold another public hearing on the Highway 67 project, possibly in spring or summer 2014, District Planning and Programming Engineer Maggie Yoder said.
“It’s definitely a lot further along in the design process than it was at the initial open house,” she said.
Other projects
The second-biggest sum assigned to Bulloch is $4.97 million for passing lanes to U.S. Highway 80, identified in the list as State Route 26, from Amanda Road to Old Leefield Road. Planning and engineering work is slated for fiscal year 2014 and right-of-way for in 2016. But the funding needed for utilities and construction remains “after 2017.”
Smaller projects in Bulloch County include several intersection improvements, a railroad crossing device on Zetterower Avenue and resurfacing and maintenance on sections of Highways 67 and 26.
The current and previous Statewide Transportation Improvement Program lists can be viewed at www.dot.ga.gov/STIP.
Fewer than 20 people stopped by Thursday’s 5-7 p.m. meeting by the end of the first hour. At least one local couple viewed the maps and asked questions about the Georgia Highway 67 and U.S. Highway 80 projects. Among others attending were a local truck driver who hauls asphalt, a project engineer from a Vidalia-based paving company, a DOT retiree from Jesup and his wife, and Barrow and state Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville.
From Toombs County, Board of Commissioners Chairman Blake Tillery and County Manager John M. Jones brought questions about the planned four-laning of U.S. Highway 1, which will pass through or around Lyons, the county seat. Construction on the first section is slated for 2017.
Thursday’s meeting was the second of two the Georgia DOT held for residents of District 5, which extends along the coast to Georgia’s southeastern corner. The other meeting was in Waycross.
“This is our outreach to the public,” Nagel said. “Before it (the improvement plan) is final, we want them to see where the money will be going.”

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