DOT holds hearing on Leesburg bypass

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Georgia Department of Transportation officials were out in force at the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building Tuesday for a public hearing on the proposed Leesburg North Bypass project.

The hearing, which offered GDOT personnel an opportunity to listen to citizens' concerns and answer any questions about the proposed project, is one of the final steps before the purchase of project rights-of-way begins. That process is currently scheduled for February of 2012, and if all goes as planned construction on the project would begin in May of 2013.

"Some unforseen financial or environmental issue could certainly delay (the project), but when you get to this point in the process things are usually around 99 percent done," DOT Tifton District Engineer Joe Sheffield said. "We use these public hearings to make any minor tweaks, but I have to admit I haven't heard too many complaints so far."

The Leesburg North Bypass is proposed to be located just north of the Leesburg city limits and would run east-west between U.S. Highway 19 and State Highway 195. The project's design calls for a bridge that will pass over U.S. 19 and the Norfolk-Southern Railroad tracks that run through the middle of downtown Leesburg.

The bypass is designed to divert traffic from downtown and help alleviate some of the congestion in Leesburg during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up of school children.

"Certainly when you have a city of 3,000 that grows to 10,000 in the mornings and afternoons when school is in session, you have congestion problems," Lee Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander said. "The North Bypass, like the improvements made on Robert B. Lee Drive to the south, will help disperse some of that traffic and improve the traffic flow.

"By making (the bypass) a two-lane road and moving the intersection with U.S. 19 a little to the north, the cost of the project was cut in half. It was a great move for the county and the Department of Transportation to make; it will satisfy the traffic conditions in the county for the next 25-30 years."

Douglas Fadool, one of "30 or so" GDOT project managers, will oversee completion of the Leesburg North Bypass project. He said Tuesday's public hearing will allow Transportation officials to move forward with needed environmental documentation.

"The goal is to get the environmental documents approved," Fadool said. "Once that's done, and the footprint of the project is cemented in place, we'll start looking at rights-of-way acquisition.

"If things follow plans -- and so far they have with this project -- we're looking at a completion date of 18 to 24 months from the start of construction. What we're doing now is following federal guidelines to move the project along."

All DOT officials at the hearing said public input was important.

"We respond to every public comment that is recorded," Senior Project Design Manager Maureen Nerenbaum said. "In fact, we altered the original design of this project because of public input. We changed the symmetrical design to widen the road toward vacant land rather than toward people's homes.

"We have the ecologists, the historians and the archaeologists look at the impact, and we gather public input. All of that is taken into account before we make the final design."

Homeowners Edward and Carol Lisenby are among the families most impacted by the bypass project. The road will run adjacent to their home, and the right-of-way will abut their property line.

"My house is 30 feet from my property line, so I'll have a road going right by my house and no access to that road," Edward Lisenby said as he discussed the project with Nerenbaum. "Nothing's changed (from our original complaints), but what are you gonna do? I guess we're going to have to be OK with this because at this point there's nothing we can do about it."

Carolyn Lisenby said her family had been willing to "take one for the team" when it appeared GDOT would run the bypass through the location of their home.

"We were actually more willing to give up our home, but now we're left with a road going right by our house," she said. "But there's nothing else we can do now but stop worrying about it."

Plans for the Leesburg North Bypass will be available for review for 10 days at the GDOT Albany Area Office at 2060 Newton Road. Documents are also avaialable at the www.dot.ga.gov website. Comments may also be made at that site.