By Tia Lynn Ivey
A long-term $100 million road-widening project is in the works for over eight miles of U.S. 441 beginning in 2023.
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) hosted a Public Information Open House at the Morgan County High School to display proposed project plans for the $100 million widening and reconstruction of US 441 from the Madison Bypass to the Watkinsville Bypass last Tuesday night.
An estimated 74 people attended the open house to speak with the 20-30 staff members and consultants who were present for more information on the externalities of the project and to state their concerns.
“All the residents that may be impacted – businesses, homeowners – are represented on these graphics that’s why we invite the folks to come out and look at it,” said Kyle Collins, who is in charge of public relations for GDOT. “We have Right of Way professionals here to break down what that process could look like…to come up with solutions or usher them through the process if they are displaced to try to get them as comfortable as they can. I know nothing is going to be like their original home but that’s just kind of part of jobs like this.”
The overall construction is broken into three projects between Morgan County and Oconee County: P.I. No. 0013617 will begin at the Madison Bypass and end north of Apalachee River in Oconee County, P.I. No. 0013613 will begin north of Apalachee River (a continuation) to just south of the town of Bishop and continue north of High Shoals Road to connect with the Watkinsville Bypass, and P.I. No. 0015925 will be a new connecting bypass east of the Town of Bishop’s downtown area (and its existing 441 highway) and begin at Astondale Road until reaching High Shoals Road where P.I. No. 0013613 will continue.
For Morgan County’s 8.46-mile project, P.I. No. 0013617, widening will begin at the intersection of SR 24/US 441/US 129 and SR 12/US 441 BUS/US 278 going north, approaching the bridge, with a five-lane (two lanes on each side, one center turn-lane) typical section to mimic the road’s original layout. The five-lane highway will then transition to a four-lane typical highway with a 32- foot depressed grass median where it will continue until reaching the project for Oconee County. The estimated cost for the reconstruction in Morgan County, including preliminary engineering, right of way, utilities and etc., is $51.5 million, and is the most expensive of the three projects.
“Spring 2023 is when they all should be sent out for bids,” Collins said. “That takes about a month. That will be awarded and it’ll take a few more weeks or months to get everything mobilized. So, I think it’s safe to say about mid to late summer 2023 folks will start to see some activity, some clearance and utility relocations.”
According to GDOT officials, Oconee’s larger project, P.I. No. 0013613, is proposed to continue with “a four-lane typical section with a 24-foot raised median for the beginning of the project to the just south of the Town of Bishop, and north of High Shoals Road the proposed facility would return to a four-lane typical section with a 24-foot raised median.” This project length is 8.20 miles.
The new bypass construction, P.I. No. 0015925, will curve east of the town of Bishop unaffecting the town’s historical and archaeological features, and hopefully decreasing truck traffic through the town. This project is 0.82 miles long.
According to the GDOT press release, all of “the projects would follow the existing SR 24/ US 441 alignment with the widening shifting from one side of the existing road to the other side to avoid and/or minimize impacts to environmental resources and residences/businesses.”
Although new to some, the plan to improve US 441 has been in the works for over 20 years.
“It comes down to the Governor’s Road Improvement Program…it’s a commitment to connect rural areas that have a lot of two-lane highways for better safety, traffic operations, economic developments, and to help trucks freight about,” Collins explained. “Majority of that corridor is on 441. There are a lot of roads… that are all a part of construction. There’s something going on in Oconee, Morgan, Putnam, on the south side towards Dublin that are really the last pieces to widen 441 from North to South from two lanes to four lanes. So, it’s just an ongoing commitment that needs to be delivered.”
According to GDOT, with over 20 percent of traffic in Morgan County being trucks and the rise of economic development in Madison and surrounding cities, traffic congestion will inevitably increase. The widening of US 441 can increase safety for vehicles and decrease traffic interruptions.
All public comments are welcomed by April 2, and according to Collins, “even if they are venting, positively or negatively, we want to hear about it.”
Go online to submit comments at www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach by selecting Morgan as your county, selecting “3/12 & 3/19/19-US 441/SR 24 Widening” as your project, then selecting comment. Send them by mail to Eric Duff at Georgia Department of Transportation at 600 West Peachtree Street, 16th Floor, Atlanta, Georgia 30308.