Porterdale, county inch forward on 81/Bypass intersection project

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

PORTERDALE -- An intersection improvement project that has languished on the drawing board for nearly 10 years got a nudge forward Thursday night at a joint work session between representatives from Newton County and the Porterdale City Council.

A concept design for improvements to the Ga. Highway 81 intersection with Covington Bypass/Crowell Road, which has been called one of the worst in the county, calls for widening of the roadways to allow for turn lanes and traffic signals at the Highway 81 and Covington Bypass/Crowell Road intersection and at the intersection of Highway 81 and Ga. Highway 162 Alternate, about 500 feet to the west. The project cost is estimated at $3 million.

County Engineer Kevin Walter and representatives from LPA, the engineering firm hired by the county to create the design, presented the conceptual design to the council, seeking council members' input before the plan is finalized.

While everyone present at the meeting Thursday agreed that the project is needed, all were not in accord on how to carry it out.

Mayor Bobby Hamby expressed some displeasure regarding the plan's call for increased right of way acquisition along the northern side of Highway 81 that would affect two homes in the historic district and suggested some realignment of lanes in the design.

Hamby, who felt his suggestions were met with opposition, also claimed that the county had not involved the city in designing the plan.

"We have not been involved from the start," Hamby said. "If we had, the kind of conversation we are having tonight we would have already had."

Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan disagreed that Porterdale had not been involved in the process, reminding Hamby that Thursday's work session was the first presentation of LPA's design.

The next step, Morgan said, is to decide on a final design so that they can move forward with determining who will fund what part of the project.

"The next phase is do we go forward, do we not go forward. What does Porterdale want?" she said.

Walter explained that DOT will look more favorably on a project plan in which the city and county have agreed to provide some portion of the funding.

Porterdale has approximately $409,000 in SPLOST funds available for transportation projects. However, Hamby reminded the council that there are other streets in Porterdale that are in need of repair.

In addition, Hamby said Porterdale is being asked to spend a disproportionate amount of money on the project as compared to the intersection's usage by Porterdale residents.

"I want to remind everybody that less than 10 percent of traffic at that intersection is Porterdale residents," Hamby said.

"Our citizens aren't contributing to the problem, but they are contributing to the solution," he added.

Morgan said that Newton County's policy calls for a 50-50 split between the county and municipalities for projects within city borders.

Walter added that the county does not have the money itself to carry out the project.

"The only way this is going to get built is if the state pays a substantial amount of it." he said. He noted that the more the two local governments can contribute, the better chance they have of getting state money, and that the state is unlikely to contribute funds if Porterdale and Newton County aren't in full agreement on the project.

Council members agreed in principle to move forward with tweaking the conceptual design by incorporating suggestions from the council -- including minimizing the impact to houses on Highway 81.

All of the council members agreed that it is important to move forward with the project.

Arline Chapman said failure to make improvements at the intersection will hamper further growth in Porterdale, particularly on property that has been annexed into the city.

"That will never develop the way we want it to if people are stuck in a bottleneck trying to get to it," Chapman said.

Councilman Robert Foxworth said he supports the project -- with or without changes to the design.

"This project is long overdue, and I think we need to move forward with it," he said.

Once the city and county have a design on which they can agree, the next steps in the process will be to conduct a cost analysis, determine the funding distribution, and then go to the DOT to pursue state funding.