Road may reopen in two weeks
Temporary fixes to start Monday on Crowell Road

COVINGTON - Crowell Road could be reopened in two weeks, according to Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan.

Morgan and county staff members met with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Department of Transportation on Monday and got approval to make temporary repairs to the road.

The repairs will involve patching a sinkhole at a cost of about $205,000, with the county being reimbursed for 75 percent of that from FEMA, she said.

Repairs should begin no later than Monday, Morgan said, and the hope is the road will be reopened in 15 days.

A portion of Crowell, at the Interstate 20-Almon Road interchange, has been closed since flooding in late September.

Morgan is asking for mitigation for the road, which has been damaged by water at least three times in nine years.

"If we replace it to the point it was at the time of the flood, it's just going to flood again," Morgan said.

If FEMA agrees to mitigation, the reimbursement to the county would need to be negotiated; the agency only commits to reimbursing 75 percent of the cost to get roads back to pre-flood condition, Morgan said.

Commissioners were expected to discuss Tuesday night hiring a consultant to send a dive team down to assess the safety of bridges and look at roads impacted by flooding.

While the DOT has already sent its own team of experts, its report will likely not be ready within FEMA's 60-day deadline, Morgan said, and she wants to make sure the county is eligible for federal funding.

The DOT is overworked in the aftermath of the flood, Morgan said, noting that while 27 roads in Newton County were affected, many counties had 10 times that.

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, sent out a press release earlier this week stating that he was attempting to get some of the $17 million in stimulus money earmarked for the widening of Ga. Highway 142 transferred to the Crowell Road project.

"With that much money designated solely to widening a portion of Highway 142, logic dictates that some of the funds can be made available for Crowell Road with no impact to the original project," Douglas said. "Keeping that important access road to Interstate 20 indefinitely closed is unacceptable."

But Morgan said that won't be happening.

"First of all, that is illegal. There was no discussion with the county ... He has not talked with any of us about doing that. We cannot co-mingle project money," Morgan said.

Projects funded through federal stimulus dollars require a comprehensive environmental evaluation that takes up to two years, she added.

"Even if I did attempt to transfer that money, it would take six months to get it transferred (by going through the proper state and federal channels) and then two years for the environmental," she said, meaning the opening of Crowell would take years.

"If Sen. Douglas had called me or my staff we would have explained this to him and explained that is a project we cannot do," she said.

Furthermore, county officials have been working almost 10 years to get funding for the widening of Ga. Highway 142 running from the new Walmart to south of the intersection with U.S. Highway 278.

It is the most heavily traveled stretch of road in the county, with 30,000 vehicles per day, and also has the highest traffic accident count, she said.

The project "is of great importance to Newton County, equal to the Crowell Road corridor being opened, if not more important by just sheer volume," Morgan said.

"I appreciate what he did because he was trying to help us get more money," she said of Douglas, but added that "it is not a viable option; it is not for consideration."

Morgan said state and federal transportation officials have confirmed that the transfer of funds is not an option.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.