The Georgia Department of Transportation and the city of Statesboro have begun scheduling funds for a traffic circle to be built in a few years near the middle of the Blue Mile to untangle the intersection at Fair Road and South Main Street.
The proposed, majority state-funded project is estimated to cost up to $5.95 million. That is the total of early projections for the right of way acquisition, utility lines relocation, engineering and construction phases shown in a brief preconstruction status report found on www.dot.ga.gov. The actual construction phase, somewhere beyond the fiscal year 2023 right of way acquisition, is projected to cost $3 million.
Fair Road, being part of State Route 67, intersects South Main, part of U.S. Highways 25 and 301, at a notoriously sharp angle, requiring northwest-bound drivers to do some rubbernecking at a stop sign. This occurs a few yards from where East Brannen Street intersects both highways and two sets of railroad tracks cross at street grade, forming an ‘X’ in the pavement. Railroad crossing arms with flashing lights are the only active traffic signals.
“The proposed project would convert the (U.S. Highways 25 and 301) and SR 67 intersection to a single lane roundabout to improve both safety and operations,” states the first line of a two-sentence GDOT project description, in the status report.
“The proposed roundabout reduces the number of conflict points at the subject intersection from 66 to 16, helps provide speed reduction on each approach entering the intersection, and also reduces railroad crossing lengths for vehicular traffic,” is the second sentence.
A GDOT policy defines intersections as “planned points of conflict for all modes of users – pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, transit, trucks and passenger vehicles,” Statesboro’s city Public Works and Engineering Director John Washington explained in an email.
“This particular intersection as you know has many ways pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, trains, etc. can interact,” he said. “Each interaction is considered a point in the evaluation.”
So, after several roundabouts have been built in Bulloch County in recent years, the Georgia Department of Transportation has proposed to link the two highways by a roundabout.
When Atkins North America Inc. completed a safety audit of the intersection for the GDOT in August 2017, “Convert the study intersection into a modern roundabout” was one of 12 recommended possible actions. Among those, it was one of the seven actions the consultants judged to have “high” safety benefit but also one of four they found to require “high” cost or effort.
Exactly what this roundabout would look like or where it would be positioned has not been revealed at this point by city officials or the GDOT.
“We have not been provided a final concept yet from GDOT,” Statesboro Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles said in a reply email, adding that he will defer to the GDOT for that concept.
But he supplied some links to generic illustrations and explanations of roundabouts, adding that these might be helpful “should the final concept and design remain a roundabout.” One set of illustrations clarified that a modern roundabout is not the same thing as a traffic circle. Among other differences, roundabouts are usually smaller and make for slower traffic.
Again, while showing preliminary funding estimates, the GDOT preconstruction status report, dated Feb. 4, 2021, still refers to the project as “proposed,” not as a definite plan.
Phoned Wednesday, GDOT District 5 Communications Officer Jill Nagel said she would have to check with the preconstruction engineer for the most recent information. The project could still be outside the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan cycle for actual funding approval, since the current STIP expires this year, she said.
The only phase of the project the online summary shows has having an “approved” year for funding so far is $1.5 million worth of right of way acquisition in fiscal year 2023, which will begin July 1, 2022. It’s also the only phase of funding with a local source, since the city of Statesboro has committed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, revenue for right of way costs.
In a memo provided to City Council members before a June 16, 2020, meeting, Boyles noted that the local government contribution was expected to be “up to” $1.5 million, but with $1 million of this coming from a State Road and Tollway Authority, or SRTA, grant to the city.
The other $500,000 was expected to come from the city’s share of the Bulloch County voter-approved T-SPLOST. However, city officials actually earmarked a full $1 million from T-SPLOST for the project.
“We hope to be able to keep our local contribution to $500,000; however, there are still several unknowns associated with the project at this point,” Boyles wrote Wednesday.
Council members at the June 16 meeting voted 5-0 approval of a letter stating that the city would pay to maintain lighting and landscaping for a completed roundabout and also for a separate letter Mayor Jonathan McCollar sent the GDOT expressing support for the project and committing the city to provide “the required local match” by being responsible for the right of way phase.
At that time, the city proposed the right of way acquisition for this year and indicated a desire to see the project under construction in fiscal 2023.
The SRTA awarded Statesboro the $1 million grant with a June 23 letter.
The online status report shows another, undated, right of way phase with a projected budget of $500,000 from a GDOT fund, so the $5.95 million total of estimates includes up to $2 million for right of way.