Engineers for Bulloch County and Georgia Power are trying to get a project to install traffic signals at Cypress Lake Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway back on track after a delay caused by confusion regarding the power company’s high-voltage transmission lines at the intersection.
From 2013 to 2019 the intersection, where two-lane Cypress Lake Road crosses the four-lane, divided U.S. Highway 301 bypass, was the scene of 79 vehicle crashes, including 33 with injuries and one with a fatality, according to information from a Georgia Department of Transportation database. Besides replacing the flashing caution light with fully functional stoplights, the project will add left-turn lanes from both sides of Cypress Lake Road onto the parkway.
The county has a $715,000 budget for the project, including $350,000 from a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant from the Georgia DOT, and $365,000 the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. After the GDOT did a preliminary design for the traffic signals, the county hired Parker Engineering to design the turn lanes for $32,600. After taking bids, the county commissioners awarded the $538,948 construction contract Sept. 1 to another local company, Ellis Wood Contracting.
Affected utility companies were all invited to a preconstruction meeting in September, but Georgia Power did not participate, County Engineer Brad Deal told the county commissioners Tuesday morning.
“Georgia Power did not attend the meeting, and we really didn’t have much correspondence with them, and it was shortly after the preconstruction meeting they notified Wesley Parker and myself that they felt like there would be a conflict with one of the poles that we were going to install for the traffic signal with some of their power lines,” Deal said.
Several sets of power lines, belonging to three different power companies, cross this intersection or near it.
Apparently, some confusion occurred at the Georgia Department of Transportation “as to which lines were distribution lines and which lines were transmission lines,” Deal said.
Safety rules require greater clearances around transmission lines, which carry electricity from power plants to substations, than for ordinary distribution lines. However, transmission lines vary, and those at the intersection aren’t on big metal towers like the highest-voltage type, but are supported by paired wooden poles with crosspieces.
The Georgia DOT had issued the county a permit for the project last July 1. But Georgia Power did a survey in November to determine whether the transmission line would be too close to the proposed traffic signal supports and other elements of the project. In January, the power company informed Deal that this was definitely the case.
The county’s engineers then gave the power company some alternative designs. Some of these would simply have relocated the planned support poles. But another proposal was to replace the tall concrete poles and traditional traffic light suspension wires with shorter poles with mast arms, like those used at intersections downtown.
“Every design that we sent to Georgia Power, they told us we still had a conflict and the only way to solve it would be to raise the transmission lines that they have over the intersection,” Deal told the commissioners.
Georgia Power sent the county a proposal March 2 to do just that, at a cost of $287,507. That expense, added to the construction and engineering contracts, would push the total price more than $148,000 over its $715,000 budget.
But on Friday, March 12, Georgia Power engineers had contacted Deal and said it was possible that one of the alternate designs might work. They had also indicated they wanted to have a virtual meeting with the local engineers.
Deal said that previously, Georgia’s Power staff members who work with transmission lines had been hard to reach, with communication limited to exchanging emails. County Manager Tom Couch said he had contacted Georgia Power Statesboro Area Manager Matt Sawhill the previous week to “express frustration” on behalf of Deal, the commissioners and their constituents.
The transmission line engineers reached out after that, Couch noted.
He and Deal asked the Board of Commissioners for conditional approval of the $287,507 transmission line relocation agreement, so that it could be carried out if the alternative proposal is not approved. But that is not what the commissioners did.
‘Where’s the light?’
Chairman Roy Thompson said, “Where is the traffic light?” is a question he hears “quite often” from county residents.
“I know now, six months later, we’re still waiting on an answer from Georgia Power, and here’s my question: If we approve this, this morning, and Georgia Power is aware that we approved the expenditure, what would behoove them to even look at our alternate?” Thompson said.
Couch then suggested that another option was to defer action on the agreement until the outcome of Deal’s meeting with Georgia Power engineers was known.
Thompson commented further that if Georgia Power representatives had attended the September preconstruction conference, “We might have a traffic light out there by now.”
On a motion from Commissioner Jappy Stringer, seconded by Commissioner Walter Gibson, the commissioners unanimously deferred action on the transmission line relocation agreement.
The meeting by computer teleconference involving Deal and Georgia Power transmission line engineers occurred Thursday.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re at a conclusive point just yet, but we did talk enough to basically decide that we might be able to come up with an alternate design that would not require moving their transmission lines,” Deal said afterward.
The county now has Parker Engineering working on a more detailed version, to send to both Georgia Power and the Georgia DOT, of an alternative design using shorter poles with mast arms and underground wiring for the traffic lights. The redesign would add some cost, maybe less than $50,000, but not $287,000, Deal said.
But the special poles could also take a few more months to obtain, Couch had told the commissioners.
Georgia Power response
In response to questions from the Statesboro Herald, Sawhill provided a statement Friday from Georgia Power.
“Georgia Power’s top priority is the safety of our customers and partners around our lines and the company is committed to working with Bulloch County to ensure this project is completed safely and efficiently,” it began. “Georgia Power will always work with communities to find the most cost-effective solutions.
“Georgia Power has been a longstanding partner with Bulloch County, Georgia DOT and others, and we are focused on continuing open and transparent communication with them to meet our shared goal of serving the Bulloch County community,” the company’s statement concluded.