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Web posted Sunday, October 09, 2011

Parkway extension delayed by regulations

By Donnie Fetter - Twitter @Donnie Fetter
News Editor

The figurative roadblocks for a planned extension of William Few Parkway continue for Columbia County officials.

County commissioners on Tuesday approved spending nearly $163,000 to update an initial survey on the topography, conduct a floodplain study, revise the right-of-way plan, revise a noise report and update a sound-barrier design, update storm water management plans and more. Much of the work is because of rule revisions in recent months from state and federal regulatory agencies, officials have said.

"The rules have changed three times," commission Chairman Ron Cross said of noise studies. "The thing about the Federal Highway Administration is that once a new rule comes into effect, you're not grandfathered in. If an old rule is changed, you have to go back and change what you've already done."

Even when such a study is done, it often still doesn't satisfy regulatory officials, Cross said.

A previous noise study required a public hearing, but when no one showed, federal officials cried foul, Cross recalled. Local officials then hand delivered notices of another public hearing, but, again, no one attended.

The rules changed again, though, and the county had to conduct another noise study to gauge the possible affect of future development along the extension.

A more recent rule change requires that the county conduct a floodplain study before construction can start on the long-delayed project.

"The regulatory agencies are out of control," Cross said. "Every time we turn around, they change the rules."

Officials optimistically noted in a county report released last week that the "right-of-way plans have been forwarded to the Georgia Department of Transportation and the construction plans are near completion."

Construction initially was scheduled to conclude last year -- yet the extension still hasn't started. DOT unveiled the plan to extend the parkway 1.64 miles north to Hardy McManus Road in December 2007. At that time, state transportation officials said construction would start in summer 2008 and finish in no more than two years.

The project, estimated to cost about $10 million, hit its first snag in June 2009 when Atlanta-based Greenhorne & O'Mara backed out of consulting on the project when they shut down their Georgia offices. The county spent more than $171,000 to hire Southern Partners Inc. to pick up where Greenhorne & O'Mara left off.

Even then, former county Construction and Maintenance Services director Scott Herring said the project was months behind schedule.

Phone messages left last week with Ronnie Hutto, the county's project manager for the extension, to discuss other delays were not immediately returned.

Cross said the frustration he feels regarding the project nearly matches what he and other officials went through in dealing with railroad executives for three years trying to get a center turn lane built on Washington Road in front of Goodwill in Evans.

"It is totally and completely ridiculous," he said. "Nobody should have to go over this time and time again on a relatively simple project."

Photo by Jim Blaylock Columbia County plans to extend William Few Parkway to Hardy McManus Road to provide better access to the Greenbrier schools and surrounding neighborhoods.[CAPTION]

Photo by Jim Blaylock Construction on William Few Parkway was scheduled to be completed last year, but the project has yet to begin because of state and federal delays.

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