County approves supplemental agreement for SR 81 design

Concept layout for state route 81 widening project at Postmaster Drive (Georgia DOT photo)

Commissioners approved a supplemental agreement for the design of widening state route 81 on Tuesday morning. The project extends between Postmaster Drive — the eastern terminus of the under-construction one-way pair — and Bethany Road.

The supplemental agreement was necessary to reflect increased costs incurred by the engineering firm throughout the design process. This is the first supplemental agreement since the original contract date in August 2016. The county’s hired firm is Moffatt & Nichol (M&N).

Concept layout for state route 81 at Postmaster Drive (Georgia DOT photo)
The widening project starts at Postmaster Drive. (Georgia DOT photo)

A major factor causing the additional work has been issues related to the project’s logical termini — a multiyear delay originating in 2017. Because the project is receiving federal funds, the Federal Highway Administration requires their approval of the project’s endpoints to justify the federal dollars involved.

Traffic counts on state route 81 indicate, at their highest point between Racetrack Road and Old Jackson, over 25,000 vehicles travel on the roadway daily. Because these counts do not substantially decrease at Bethany Road, additional work on the part of the engineering firm was required to justify ending the widening at the intersection. M&N was able to complete this work — avoiding further delays to the project — and received FHWA concurrence on the Need and Logical Termini Report in June 2019.

Furthermore, M&N has incorporated new Georgia DOT policies into the design of the project as they became required, such as intersection control evaluations (ICE) for intersections within the project’s boundaries and updates to geotechnical requirements and the environmental assessment. The supplemental agreement is valued at $455,890.

The supplemental agreement increases the total value of the county’s contract with M&N to $1,955,240. The contract is paid for with $1.2 million in federal transportation funds and the difference is split 50/50 between commission districts I and III SPLOST IV funds. The additional funding for the supplemental agreement will be deducted from the resurfacing budget items for each district — $227,945 per district.

Right of Way Acquisition adjusted to FY 2022

In spring of this year, the federal funding allocated for the project’s right of way acquisition was adjusted from FY 2020 to FY 2022. This move reflects the delays that have occurred during preliminary engineering. Six million dollars in federal funds have been allocated for right of way.

The purchase of additional right of way will be required from 118 properties with one displacement. The anticipated displacement is for a 1958 structure located across from Publix at Lake Dow.

At the time of writing, the project’s estimated timeline is as follows:

  • Preliminary Field Plan Review — December 2020
  • Right of Way Authorization — November 2021
  • Final Field Plan Review — September 2022
  • GDOT Construction Let Date — February 2024

The letting of construction — estimated to cost $21.6 million — is dependent upon the work being selected for federal transportation dollars. Henry County applied for the funding in October 2019; however, the Atlanta Regional Commission has delayed its funding recommendations because of uncertainties in future federal funding levels. The recommendations are now expected sometime in 2021.

Once started, construction is forecast to last two years.

Phase II extends to Keys Ferry

Henry County budgeted $400,000 in SPLOST V in preparation to begin design work for a second state route 81 widening project between Bethany Road and Keys Ferry. The costs are shared 50/50 between commission districts I and III.

Included within Henry County’s application for federal funding is the cost of design work for phase II. The county awaits the ARC recommendations before this work can proceed forward.

In a conservative estimate, construction for phase II could begin in 2028. This is based on Moving Henry Forward estimating the county could receive design funds in FY 2023, start right of way acquisition in FY 2026, and finally, break ground on construction in FY 2028. Additional local and federal funding are required for this phase to move forward.

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Clayton Carte is the founder and owner of MHF News. Since 2017, he has written over 900 articles sharing local updates with the community.