LEESBURG — When Lee County commissioners figuratively came to a fork in the road Tuesday night, they opted to take the Glendale Route.
Despite opposition from some property owners along the route, the commission voted 4-1 to begin the Forrester Parkway extension process that will link U.S. Highways 82 and 19 in Lee County. The other two options were the Century Road Extension and the Forrester Parkway Connection from Kinchafoonee Creek Road.
It’s a move that county officials believes will generate significant economic development, reduce response time for emergency services to many residents and generally make it easier for motorists to reach many existing Lee County businesses.
“I believe in the value of a complete east-west connector,” said Commission Chairman Rick Muggridge. “Any route we pick will come with some pain and will impact the district I represent.
“But, I agree with the engineers that Glendale is the best route … and the benefits outweigh the negative portions of it.”
The proposed east-west connector will begin at Glendale Road and Creekside Drive and extend west to Oakland Library on U.S. Highway 82, creating a new five-mile corridor that will connect Highways 19 and 82. When completed, the expansion will join the part of Forrester Parkway now open to traffic, creating a 10-mile connection between Philema Road and U.S. 82.
“I’ve struggled with this decision more than any issue that has come before the board,” said Commissioner Ed Duffy. “My struggle is between Kinchafoonee Creek Road or Glendale. I’ve struggled with this thing until it’s about to drive me crazy. But, I’ve concluded that the cost of Kinchafoonee might be a lot more than projected. … I think Glendale is the better route.”
Greg Frich, county commissioner for District 5, echoed Duffy’s comments concerning the difficulty of the decision.
“Part of me doesn’t want to vote on this, but another part of me sees the public safety (benefit) of it,” Frich said. “It is incumbent upon us to have to make these difficult decisions.”
Frich made the motion to pick the Glendale route. Commissioner Luke Singletary of District 2 seconded the motion. Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Roland was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 decision.
The Glendale route, some commissioners noted, is the more direct route and is the only one of the three to have an 80-foot right-of-way. The other two have 60-foot right-of-ways.
A previous study conducted by graduate students at Georgia Tech also indicated the Glendale route was the best choice based on numerous factors. According to their study, Glendale was ranked high, especially in economic development, inter-connectivity and transportation efficiency.
The study also noted that the route has a more significant impact on the environment as it will pass through wetlands.
Lee County Manager Ron Rabun was hard pressed to give many specifics Wednesday in reference to a timetable for the work.
“It’s a multi-year project, but we’ll know more about what the timetable will look like when we come back with preliminary engineering,” Rabun said. “It will be three or four years before it’s completed. I don’t see any dirt moving until the end of the year on the first phase, or even spring of next year.”
“We’ve got to get the engineering work done, and we’ve got to have enough money.”
Lee Commissioners have $5.2 million to finance the work. That’s the amount that Lee voters approved in special-purpose local-option sales tax financing.
That total includes $500,000 for an eight-inch water line the length of the five-mile roadway. It does not including funding for enhancements in the populous Glendale Subdivision area. The enhancements include underground drainage, curb and gutter and a parking turnaround pad to allow homeowners an alternative to backing into the busy roadway. Those enhancements are being considered only in the subdivision area.
The Glendale decision is not popular with many of those residents or numerous others along the route. Several Glendale residents showed up at a public hearing two weeks ago to voice their opposition.
William J. McAfee, M.D. and managing partner of Fowltown Farms, was at the meeting Tuesday night to witness the vote.
In a letter to county commissioners before the vote, McAfee said he was concerned about the “land, waterways and adjoining wetland at risk.”
McAfee believes the Kinchafoonee option is the proper choice because of diminished value to pristine land and driver safety and comfort. He also contends the study by the Georgia Tech grad students was flawed because of data used in the assessment.
He also believes that bids for the Glendale route will be considerably higher than the $5.2 million currently earmarked for the project.
Bid letting, Rabun said, should be early in 2015. The initial work will be done on the west side of the project working toward the east, he said.