Athens-Clarke County Commissioners spent much of their work session last night on potential transportation improvements, as county staff briefed lawmakers on two big transportation projects: improvements to Barber Street, and a slate of proposed safety measures for Prince Avenue.
The Prince Avenue corridor is popular with pedestrians and cyclists, as well as being a heavily trafficked route into downtown Athens, and the need for safety improvements, as well as competing visions on how to accomplish those improvements, have bedeviled Commissioners for years. Last night’s presentation focused heavily on safety, with suggested improvements including redesigned intersections, mid-block crosswalks, and dedicated bike lanes.
District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton said that, while she’s generally supportive of bike lanes, she’d like to see how heavily used the county’s current bike lanes are.
“You’re asking me to vote on something, sooner or later, that I don’t know if it worked well in other areas,” Thornton said.
Bike lane usage data is not something that county staff currently has, according to the county’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Safety Coordinator, Daniel Sizemore, but it is data that the county is working on developing.
District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link, who represents part of the Prince Avenue area, raised concerns about traffic calming measures as vehicles enter town. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood waiting to cross at that Oglethorpe/Satula intersection and seen a tractor-trailer blast through it at 50 miles per hour,” Link said.
Responding to Commissioners’ questions about extending the project area further down Prince Avenue to Homewood Hills, SPLOST program administrator Keith Sanders cautioned Commissioners that the funding for Prince Avenue improvements was finite. “There’s also only $3.8 million dollars,” Sanders said, “and so it’s a matter of how far does that money go … all of the projects on the list won’t be able to get funded by that 3.8.” But, he added, Commissioners could continue work on Prince in the next Transportation Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, package.
Commissioners also heard about that potential T-SPLOST at last night’s meeting. County officials say that the current T-SPLOST is on track to collect its target of $109.5 million earlier than expected, and they propose moving the vote for the $139.5 million T-SPLOST 2023 from November 2022 to May 2022.
Finally, Commissioners continued work on the county’s budget in advance of a final vote scheduled for next Tuesday. Mayor Kelly Girtz brought in a retooled budget that allocates money for projects specifically mentioned by Commissioners in previous budget work sessions, including $750,000 to raise wages for the lowest-paid county employees to $15 per hour, $150,000 for a community garden program proposed by Commissioner Mariah Parker, and additional money for staff in the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices. Funding for these additional items would come from scrapping a police youth cadet program, and reallocating federal CARES Act funding.