DARTS committee approves roads list

LEESBURG -- A list of 31 prioritized transportation projects was officially placed on the Department of Transportation's radar Thursday morning when the Dougherty Area Regional Transportation Study was approved as the region's Long-Range Transportation Plan by the DARTS Policy Committee.

The committee's approval of the projects, estimated to cost $613,654,850, was required to assure that the region would be eligible for federal funding.

And while the projects were prioritized based on a formula utilized by project management team URS of Atlanta, Policy Committee Chairman Jeff Sinyard said the prioritization is not set in stone.

"This is a living, moving document," Sinyard, chairman of the Dougherty County Commission, said after the meeting at the Page Tharp Government Center here. "This committee meets four times during the year, and if at any time we decide that a project should become more of a priority because of traffic patterns, conditions in the community or other factors, then certainly we can move a project up the list."

David Hamilton, a city of Albany transportation planner who serves as the DARTS project manager, said the goal now is to move the prioritized projects onto the region's Transportation Improvement Plan. Where the Long-Range Transportation Plan covers a span of 35 years, the TIP is a more focused four-year plan.

"In order to maintain federal transportation funding, we have to complete a long-range plan for the Metropolitan Planning Organization every five years," Hamilton said. "Before a project will be considered by the DOT for funding, it has to show up on a LRTP.

"But to push projects like the widening of Fleming Road near the Marine base (No. 5 on the DARTS plan) and the Jefferson Street interchange (No. 2) forward, the next step is to get them on the TIP."

URS Senior Transportation Planner Eric Lusher said projects on the DARTS plan's list were prioritized based on cumulative scores of criteria that included impact, safety, constructability, environmental impact, access to major (traffic) generators, land use, regional connectivity and local support.

Top DARTS projects, which includes Dougherty County and southern Lee County, are the Broad Avenue bridge, with a projected cost of $6,730,470; the Liberty Expressway/Jefferson Street interchange, $15,753,800; the Leesburg North Bypass, $8,658,990; the Westover Boulevard Extension, $19,719,990, and Fleming Road at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany ($46,659,070).

"Prior to today, a tremendous amount of work went into preparing a proposed 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan for the Dougherty Area Regional Transportation Study, which includes a portion of Lee County," Alan Ours, Lee's county administrator, said. "From a technical standpoint, because adoption of this plan is mandated by federal statute, it was the required thing to do. From a practical standpoint, it was the right thing to do.

"I think it's important, and I'm pleased with Lee County's involvement in this process. I think officials from Dougherty County, the city of Albany and Lee County have worked well together in a spirit of cooperation to meet the needs of this region."

Sinyard and Dr. Charles Gillespie, chairman of the Citizens Transportation Committee that provides input on the transportation plan, questioned the placement of the widening of State Highway 133 at No. 16 on the DARTS priority list.

"It may be at 16 on the list, but mentally it's one, two or three for everyone here," Sinyard said after the meeting. "We made the mistake of pulling away from this project once before -- for what reason, I don't know -- but we can't make a mistake like that again.

"If funding for this project becomes available, we need to be in a position where we're ready to rock and roll."