Porterdale road project moving slowly

PORTERDALE - Officials with the Georgia Department of Transportation and their engineering consulting firm met with members of the Porterdale City Council and residents at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the intersection improvement project at Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road.

Progress on the project, which would help improve traffic flow at the busy intersection by adding a red light and turn lanes, has been slow.

At Wednesday's meeting, Ben Clopper, a consulting engineer with Florence & Hutcheson Inc., said that construction may not be complete until 2011.

Despite reports that the DOT has reassessed some of its project priorities, Kimberly Nesbitt, a design group manager and contract negotiator with DOT, assured council members and residents that's not the case with the Porterdale intersection.

"This is still a priority for us," she said. "This project is still one of the viable projects, and funding is allocated for it."

Since his last meeting with the city in November, Clopper said that the DOT had approved an environmental plan for the intersection, but they had failed to send it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for final approval.

In addition to the environmental plan having to be approved by all parties, Clopper said that the DOT must complete a preliminary field plan, as well as right of way plans, before the city could begin acquiring land for the project. He estimated it could take as long as eight months before those three things are completed.

The city council voted Monday to enter into an agreement with Newton County to split the costs in half of acquiring all the rights of way at the intersection.

The DOT will be footing the bill for the construction costs of widening the intersection, but the right of way acquisitions and cost to move utilities will have to be funded by the city, county or a combination of the two.

The proposed agreement has been sent to the Newton County Board of Commissioners for approval.

Councilwoman Arline Hayes Chapman said that Wednesday's meeting reaffirmed her vote against the proposed 50-50 split of the right of way acquisitions at the intersection and stated that there was still "ample" time to negotiate a fair settlement with the county for the purchases.

"We don't know what we've bought into," Chapman said, alluding to property and a retention pond that could possibly have to be bought and built to accommodate environmental concerns that go along with the construction project.

Councilwoman Linda Finger, who voted in favor of the agreement, said that she still believed it was a wise decision, indicating that the original estimate of 22 rights of way that would have to be purchased is now down to 11.

Clopper estimated that it would probably take 12 months after the rights of way are purchased to begin construction and construction itself could take 18 months.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.