Georgia DOT responds to SR 81 widening project comments

Concept layout for state route 81 widening project near Lake Dow Road. Photo shows a future four-lane roadway with a divided center median. (Georgia DOT photo)

In late 2020, Georgia DOT held an open house for the widening of state route 81. The project runs three miles between Postmaster Drive and Bethany Road. The state recently published their response to feedback received. During the open house, GDOT received twenty-seven comments.

Out of twenty-seven comments, the state received eleven in support of the project and five opposed. In addition, one was uncommitted and ten expressed conditional support. A total of 586 people viewed the open house.

Costs & Timeline

Widening state route 81 has estimated total costs of $38.3 million. This reflects nearly $2 million dollars expended on design work. It also includes a projected $14.8 million for right of way acquisition and $22 million for construction.

Henry County began design work in 2016. They received federal funds to cover $1.2 million in costs. SPLOST IV paid the remaining $800,000. Right of way acquisition — funded by federal funds and SPLOST V — will start later this year. Finally, the project has construction funding in FY 2025. The project has a two-year build time.

Project Comments

Georgia DOT shares a response letter following each open house. The letter summarizes the project comments, and provides feedback. Open house participants received the response letter via email on Friday, May 21.

Some project comments (shown in bold and italics) and the state’s response are below. They include the following:

Construction

Construction should occur outside of peak traffic hours.

Georgia DOT is evaluating if construction timing restrictions are appropriate for this project. Further analysis is ongoing. This information will be made available as the project continues to develop.

Sidewalks & Walkability

Sidewalks are unnecessary in this corridor because of current low pedestrian traffic and existing suburban land use.

The project corridor is located within the Priority Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Area. The area is part of the Joint Henry County / Cities Transportation Plan. Henry County adopted the plan in 2016.

In addition, the corridor presently lacks sidewalk connectivity. There is evidence of a worn footpath along the roadway, indicating pedestrian use. The project corridor includes parks, businesses, and residential areas. These various uses encourage pedestrian travel. Moreover, Georgia DOT design standards warrant pedestrian walkways. The standards require a walkway when projects include the use of curb and gutter.

The project should build a multiuse trail from Bethany Road to Lemon Street.

The proposed project already includes this feature. The project would construct a 10-foot multiuse trail on the north side of SR 81 from roughly 850 feet east of Bethany Road to near Postmaster Drive.

Intersections

The lack of direct access to SR 81 westbound from Racetrack Drive will cause problems. The proposed u-turn access point at Rosser Drive is too far away. It should be shifted to Steeplechase Drive. Traffic accessing SR 81 westbound will shift to Travis Drive and the Publix parking lot.

Georgia DOT is continuing to evaluate the proposed intersection controls throughout the corridor. This comment is being added to the public record, and Georgia DOT is taking this feedback under consideration as project plans develop. More info on intersection controls will be available at the future Public Hearing Open House for this project.

A traffic signal should be used at the intersection of Lakemont Drive and SR 81, as drivers do not understand roundabouts.

Based on the analysis to date, a roundabout has been identified as the optimal choice to improve the intersection. This includes goals of both reducing the potential for crashes and improving operations at the intersection. More info on roundabouts is available at http://www.dot.ga.gov/DS/Alternative/Roundabouts.

In addition, the proposed roundabout will include signage and pavement markings to clearly guide drivers. Georgia DOT has found that drivers quickly learn to navigate roundabouts in their community, and the reduced crash rates within roundabouts show that drivers are successfully traveling through these intersections.

How will the proposed roundabout at SR 81 and Lakemont Drive affect traffic impacts on Lakemont Drive?

The proposed roundabout is expected to reduce delays at SR 81 and Lakemont Drive.

Project Limits

A traffic bottleneck will be created further to the east due to transition from a four-lane roadway to a two-lane roadway. The roadway widening needs to be continued to the east. Commenters suggested that widening should continue to North Ola Road, Keys Ferry Road, the county line / South River, SR 212, or the City of Covington.

As part of the design and environmental processes, Georgia DOT has evaluated logical termini, or ending points, for the proposed project. On the west side, the project connects to the McDonough One-Way Pair. The project provides two travel lanes in each direction. The project opened to traffic in January 2021.

On the east side, project engineers analyzed the traffic level of service (LOS) to determine an appropriate stopping point. There are three factors that determine logical termini. The end points must allow for the consideration of environmental impacts on a sufficiently broad scale, and the roadway should provide independent utility. In addition, the project should not restrict future alternatives.

The project meets these three criteria points. The proposed project will relieve congestion in the SR 81 corridor without restricting the option for future improvements in the surrounding area. The proposed project area has also been determined to be sufficient for identifying environmental impacts.

Phase II: Bethany Road to Keys Ferry

Henry County and Georgia DOT are also planning a second widening project. Phase II will widen the road further east. Early discussions indicate Keys Ferry Road as the likely terminus.

Henry County budgeted $400,000 towards design work in SPLOST V. Georgia DOT has also committed $38.2 million towards the project. The state’s website presently reflects the following:

  • Design (FY 2027) — $3 million
  • Right of Way Acquisition (FY 2029) — $1.7 million
  • Utility Relocation (FY 2031) — $3.5 million
  • Construction (FY 2031) — $30 million

Costs are preliminary and subject to change. The state’s commitment places Henry County in a better position to accelerate the project if local funds allow.

Featured image shows concept layout for widening state route 81 at Lake Dow Road. Photo credit Georgia DOT. Text within gray boxes has edits from the original document for clarity and readability.

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