Houston, Peach leaders object to proposed state downgrades of roads

mstucka@macon.comMay 13, 2014 

BYRON -- Houston and Peach county officials united Tuesday to fight proposed state downgrades of some of the area’s most important roads.

While the terminology is arcane -- involving functional classification recommendations -- Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker worried aloud that the state could use the downgrades to cut funding for the roads.

A state proposal to widen Ga. 96 from Old Hawkinsville Road in Houston County to the U.S. 23 intersection in Twiggs County was estimated at $66.6 million, but those plans are being shelved for lack of money. Plans for a further widening, to the interchange with Interstate 16, crumbled after local voters rejected a regional transportation sales tax.

Stalnaker said at Tuesday’s Warner Robins Area Transportation Study meeting that the state was trying to downgrade parts of roads, so it can cut funding.

The planning board’s chairman, Peach County Commissioner Roy Lewis, agreed with Stalnaker.

Ga. “96 is our I-20, our east-west corridor, and letting them downgrade it is not in our best interest,” Lewis said.

The state proposed downgrading Ga. 96 from a principal arterial to a minor arterial road between Ga. 247 and the Twiggs County line, despite that road getting about 7,600 cars per day. Meanwhile, the state wants to upgrade parts of Perry Parkway from minor arterial to principal arterial, though that road gets about 3,500 cars per day -- less than half the traffic as that section of Ga. 96.

Members of the transportation planning board united to oppose downgrades of the eastern section of Ga. 96; Ga. 96 between Lake Joy Road and Ga. 247, which is undergoing widening; Houston Lake Road from Russell Parkway to Ga. 49; and Ga. 49 from the Bibb/Houston county line to Houston Lake Road.

The board also agreed to seek upgrades of Watson Boulevard between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75; of Ga. 96 between Lake Joy Road and Interstate 75; of Perry Parkway between U.S. 341 North and Interstate 75; and of Perry Parkway from U.S. 341 South to Houston Lake Road.

Jessica Bird, transportation planner for Warner Robins and the planning board’s staff member, said the board’s recommendations will be sent on to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which may send the letter on to the Federal Highway Administration.

“We want to make it clear we don’t agree with those (state) recommendations,” Bird said. Final determination may come this fall.

Separately, the board was told Perry was in danger of losing two transportation grants valued at $910,950. The city’s community development director, Mike Beecham, told The Telegraph the city was close to finalizing the project plans.

“We’re finally getting all that worked out. ... We do not think we will lose the grants. We expect to make all the deadlines,” Beecham said.

One grant would add lighting for pedestrians using sidewalks along Gen. Courtney Hodges Boulevard, where earlier grants added lights to the middle of the street.

The second grant will add decorative brick sidewalk, pedestrian lighting and landscaping along Commerce Street, Beecham said.

It’s not clear when construction could begin. The projects have been planned for years.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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