Originally created 02/12/02

Plan upsets residents

DOT officials, county commissioners and state legislators will talk about the project at a Feb. 19 meeting in Atlanta. Construction work is scheduled to begin in 2005 and cost $7.5 million.

When Georgia Department of Transportation officials met with Columbia County residents in April about the expansion of North Belair Road, they heard criticism and questions about the alignment.

Now, after nearly 10 months of study, residents probably won't be any happier: The DOT is still leaning toward making North Belair a four-lane connector route between Belair and Furys Ferry roads.

The plan has upset residents and business owners.

"It would probably put me out of business," said Jack Woods, the owner of Tracker Jack's, an archery store at the corner of North Belair and Furys Ferry roads. "It's going to take the biggest portion of my parking."

A preliminary recommendation from a state consultant, listed in a recent DOT status report on the project, calls the use of North Belair "preferred."

Joe Wheeler, a DOT design group manager, wouldn't comment on the specifics of the project.

"We did ask the consultant to make a recommendation," he said. "But until such time that they've furnished all of the data that we've asked for, I'd rather not comment on what the study says because I'm not sure whether or not our management will follow the recommendation."

Mr. Wheeler said a final recommendation will be made in about two weeks.

The plan is designed to ease traffic congestion and to serve as a four-lane link from Fort Gordon's Gate 1 to Furys Ferry Road.

The problem, residents say, is that the DOT's latest plan uses North Belair as the link and not Industrial Park Drive - a road designed for industry and already connected to Belair Road.

Mr. Woods of Tracker Jack's supports moving the link to Industrial Park.

"If you go down Industrial, that's where it really needs to be because that is industrial," he said. "(North Belair) is really mostly residential."

Veronica and Leonard Scott are among North Belair's residents.

"I'm more concerned about the fact that you've got subdivisions, you have kids, and you're going to bring in a four-lane highway with high speeds," said Mrs. Scott, who lives in One Marshall Place subdivision.

The preliminary recommendation says two alternative routes using Industrial Park Drive "would impact wetlands" and "would have more right-of-way displacements and higher construction costs."

Still, Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, says the will of the people should factor in.

"It disappoints me," he said. "The state of Georgia is being asked by the county to build it. But the residents of the area don't want it, and yet they're going to pursue it.

"If they're not going to go the route that the people want, why don't they just take the money and go build some other road somewhere else?"

Columbia County Commissioner Jim Whitehead agrees.

"I understand that the DOT is trying to find the best route," he said. "But I'm not in favor of it because I think it's a very pretty and pristine road with a lot of beautiful subdivisions."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110, or prestonsparks@newstimesonline.com.


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