In the past year the Georgia Department of Transportation has held two public hearings for projects in Pickens – a forced U-turn at the Highway 515/Antioch Church Road intersection and a passing lane on Highway 53 East between Four Mile Church Road and Wilkie Road.
While Talking Rock townspeople near the Antioch Church Road intersection agreed something needs to be done to reduce crashes there, they don’t like the GDOT proposal at all – a median would prohibit vehicles from making left-hand turns or crossing the highway. Talking Rock business owners complained that it would kill their downtown district, and Jasper’s Mayor John Weaver added to the public chorus, speaking against the forced U-turn solution.
On the east side of the county, residents near a possible passing lane site say they don’t see the need. But Georgia DOT says the current level of service on Highway 53 East along the project corridor is a “B,” and with population growth the level of service would be reduced to a “C” by 2038.
We’d argue that the level of service at another spot, Highway 53 from where it crosses Highway 515 into downtown Jasper, would rate an “F” right now, not in two decades.
Instead of funding two projects not many people seem to like, why not put the money into the big project that is very wanted? Although the project in Jasper is much more expensive, some estimates are well beyond $20 million, the other two projects are not cheap either (Antioch/515 project at $1 million and the passing lane at $3 million). The $4 million proposed on unwanted work would be a nice start on the real need.
Local leaders regularly say this stretch of congested Hwy. 53, the main corridor through Jasper, has and will continue to create traffic issues in town to the point it hampers tourism and commerce.
Since the 1980s there has been some type of plan on Georgia DOT books to make that section of Highway 53 more functional by widening the road and constructing a split set of one-way roads, among other improvements to help move traffic through downtown.
For all the plans that are regularly revised, nothing significant ever comes into being and locals know that driving from downtown to Kroger remains a lesson in frustration. Sure, you can pull into the retail strip along that route to get some tacos or have your computer repaired, but try pulling back out. And if you’re unlucky enough to travel that route during Jasper Middle School pick up or drop-off, forget about getting anywhere.
In a recent interview, County Commission Chair Rob Jones said that stretch of road is crucial for business, and that something should have been done 15 years ago. Mayor Weaver has worked diligently to get the project traction for years with no results at the state level.
The state department of transportation is enjoying a monetary windfall with the Georgia Transportation Fund Act of 2015, which will allow them to spend an additional $757 million on projects in FY 2016 and an additional $820 million in 2017. Most of the initial money spent in 2016 and 2017 will fund much-needed maintenance that has been neglected around the state. We’re happy to see these maintenance measures. According to GDOT’s list of projects, Pickens is slated for some resurfacing and other basic work in the next two years.
We encourage the state transportation planners to not spend money on stuff no one wants. Spend it on something everyone wants and something that will help our county immensely.
If revenues continue to roll in like they are expected to, and GDOT gets a grip on routine maintenance, this big project could become a reality sooner than later.