COVINGTON - Roundabouts at Turner Lake Road and U.S. Highway 278 at Exit 90, and at Emory Street and Hwy. 278, are in the near future after the Covington City Council approved a letter of support for the Hwy. 278 CID master plan. The letter was required by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), which has committed to spend between $20-$25 million on the Hwy. 278 corridor improvements. The council approved the letter at their Aug. 19 meeting.

After nearly three years of obtaining consent from property owners along the U.S. Highway 278 corridor, the board of directors of the Highway 278 Improvement Association voted in 2017, to create the Highway 278 Community Improvement District along a 3-mile stretch of the roadway leading into Covington, and the Covington City Council officially created the CID by unanimously approving a resolution in 2017.

Owners of commercial properties located within a CID agree to an ad valorem tax of up to 5 percent levied on their properties, which, along with matching state grants, supports improvements that create an upscale commercial district and increase property values. Under Georgia law, a community improvement district can be created with the consent of at least 50 percent plus one of property owners, and the signees must represent at least 75 percent of the assessed value of properties within the proposed district.

The Highway 278 CID runs from Ginn Motor Company near the Interstate 20 Exit 90 interchange to Martins Crossing Shopping Center at the intersection of 278 and Ga. Highway 142, a distance of approximately 3 miles.

The council approved the letter at their Aug. 19 meeting. Kathy Morgan, administrator of the Hwy. 278 CID, presented the request to the council. Morgan said her board of directors met with GDOT in April for a review of the master plan. She said the state did the data and benefit analysis for the CID based on projections of growth for the area through 2040.

What GDOT sent back to the Hwy. 278 CID board of directors was the need for several roundabouts and changes at other intersections.

Morgan said the analysis found that the western half of the Hwy. 278 corridor (from Exit 90 to Mill Street) has five to six of the largest accident locations and average number of fatalities for anywhere in Newton County. The eastern half (from Mill Street to Ga. Highway 142) has none. She said the difference is the eastern half has a median and the western half doesn’t. GDOT said a median is needed all along the corridor.

Morgan said one business owner told her he was opposed to medians, but that “You can’t prevent stupid drivers. We watch accidents in front of our business almost every week. If you see those families after the impact and the damage it does to them, you won’t object to a median.”

Morgan added that GDOT also did a delay cost (the time a person has to spend in a vehicle going through a red light intersection) and found that for the intersections of Hwy. 278 at Turner Lake, at Emory Street, and at Hwy. 142, that cost is more than $34 million to citizens and public safety.

“They also looked at every intersection and every road that intersects Hwy. 278,” said Morgan. “They looked at what kind of access there was, what type of access was generated by the number of vehicles that use it every day, the types of vehicles that use it every day, and then they made recommendations for us on addressing traffic more safely and to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

“The changes are essentially just medians, a few intersection “R” cuts with red lights, and roundabouts. GDOT said if we will implement this plan, they will pay for the implementation, and the construction of all roundabouts and medians. They will do it in phases, and what that means to this community is somewhere between $20-$25 million.”

Matching funds for the project will come from Covington, Newton County, and the Hwy. 278 CID group. Covington has committed $320,000 over the next three years, Newton County has agreed to commit $320,000 from its SPLOST transportation funds, and Hwy. 278 CID will commit $600,000 from the taxes it has collected from businesses in the corridor.

“GDOT will start next year,” said Morgan. “First they have to complete the design and purchase the right-of-way. We only need a very minimum amount of right-of-way that has to be purchased, and that money can come from our grants or our matching dollars. They will work with us to get this started and they should start turning dirt before the end of next year.

“Then the second phase may be from where they end at Emory Street to either Elm Street or to Mill Street. Then the next phase may be from Mill Street to Industrial Drive, depending on what is in their budget and how much they get in federal dollars.

“But they want you to commit to the whole thing so they can put this in their strategic plan and have the whole thing done over the next 10-15 years. Each phase will take 3-5 years.”

The council unanimously approved a letter of support for the master plan, and also approved a letter stating that the city will commit to the maintenance of the landscaping and lighting costs for the plan. Morgan said her group will work with the city to get sponsors to take on the responsibility for the landscaping at each of the roundabouts.

Morgan noted that the roundabouts at Hwy. 278 and Turner Lake, and Hwy. 278 and Emory Street will be similar to the roundabout at Turner Lake Road and Clark Street.

“They will be two-lane roundabouts,” she said. “There will be signage and beautification. I think we will have some public meetings before we open those up to explain to people how to drive a roundabout. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that the Square is a roundabout, and we have been driving around that roundabout for years. It is not new to us.”

Senior Reporter

Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 26 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.