Maybe its the promise from state Rep. Ben Harbin that hell block any attempts to widen North Belair Road. Or maybe its the knowledge that citizens along the residential route are adamant that they dont want their street turned into an expressway.
Whatever the case, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross is now favoring a solution to the dilemma that makes sense - even if it deserves continued, close scrutiny.
Cross brought the countys pre-construction engineer, Ronnie Hutto, to last weeks Commission meeting to dust off an idea for re-routing, but not widening, North Belair. The plan first came up just over a year ago, and would turn North Belair sharply east at the Northwoods subdivision, through a tract of open land until the newly-cut route merges with Industrial Park Drive.
The plan is pretty good - at least, at face value. It would provide an unimpeded route, with a railroad overpass, from Furys Ferry Road all the way out to Washington Road, but it wouldnt require widening North Belair. This would give us the corridor with minimal effort, Hutto says.
Cross adds that by skipping the expense of turning two-lane North Belair into a multi-lane highway, the Georgia Department of Transportation should be able to spend the money instead on what the county sees as a far higher priority: Improvements to Washington Road in Evans.
The idea is the kernel of a good compromise between county officials who fear the expense of building the corridor somewhere other than North Belair, and homeowners who worry that the boost in traffic will eventually turn the residential road into a commercial strip. And Lord knows Washington Road needs attention before any other nearby road-improvement projects.
But whats disturbing about the re-route is that it lies along the exact same path as the stretch designated for widening by the DOT. Carving the new path opens the way to widen North Belair later - and makes it all but impossible to justify either of the alternate routes for a thoroughfare.
Even so, Harbin is cautiously optimistic, mostly because county officials admit the reroute will take pressure off plans to widen the road perhaps for 10-12 years. If it works for 12 years, I dont think well ever see any need to widen it, Harbin says - and for now, he adds, at least county officials are taking widening off the table, pending final plans from the DOT.
Cross has wandered all over the map in his commitment to North Belair - from leave it alone, to widen it, to reroute it and leave it alone again. At least, for now, hes settled in a position that could satisfy those who want less-impeded traffic around the Evans town center, as well as residents who just want to keep a semi-rural road intact. Lets hope he stays put.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.