There may not be much money trickling down from Atlanta in this tight budget year, but at least there is some good news about highway funding coming where its needed - along with troubling news about a bad project that just wont go away.
In a meeting with county officials last week, Georgia Department of Transportation Commis-sioner Tom Coleman said the state would pay $116,000 to help build an entrance road for the new Blanchard Woods Park. Columbia County recently purchased the roughly 150-acre site, and will need a nearly mile-long road for access.
Also, in addition to paving and road-redesign projects, the state plans to pay $24,000 toward the expected $62,000 cost of a badly needed, half-mile sidewalk to the new Grovetown Middle School.
Those projects are good news for Columbia County. But like a slasher-movie monster who just wont stay dead, another bad project keeps popping up: the widening of North Belair Road.
In a stunning reversal of earlier comments, County Commission Chairman Ron Cross is now encouraging the project. Straying from the prepared agenda for the countys meeting, Cross signaled he now favors DOT-funded plans to widen North Belair. (Cross, we should note, owns 8 1/2 undeveloped acres on North Belair.)
Fortunately for North Belair residents, state Rep. Ben Harbin still opposes the effort. Im going to do everything I can to encourage them to look for alternate routes, Harbin says. Just because theyre offering money doesnt mean we need to take it.
The cost of the project is expected to be in the $6 million range. DOT and county officials contend using Industrial Park Drive to create a similar four-lane connector from Furys Ferry Road to Washington Road would be too expensive.
Harbin says DOT officials are expected to have cost estimates for both projects soon. But whatever the numbers, he promises to fight against North Belair. As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Harbin says if the DOT tries to widen North Belair, hell simply cut the agencys budget by a matching amount.
Im going to fight it, Harbin vows. My position has not changed. Im not backing down.
Good for him. Any plan to turn residential North Belair into four-lane expressway is a solution in search of a problem. While DOT planners - and, to some extent, county highway officials - are good at opening up roads for more traffic, sometimes gridlock is good. If North Belair isnt convenient for masses of motorists, theyll take alternate routes and stay off the residential road. But if its four-laned, theres nothing to stop North Belair from making a speedy transition to commercial development.
As state Sen. Joey Brush wondered aloud during a meeting with county officials in December, There seems to be some other reason for the DOT pushing North Belair Road, and we dont know what it is.
We dont either. Its good that our local lawmakers at least are standing firm in protecting one of Columbia Countys residential roads from becoming an overdeveloped thoroughfare - especially as local leaders are waffling.
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