Berckmans Road redesign scrutinized
by Eric Johnson
At a public meeting on Monday, September 17, Augustans got a chance to see the latest version of the changes proposed to Berckmans Road. The plan, which would realign Berckmans Road so that it connects to the newly widened Alexander Drive, provides a direct link from Riverwatch to West Augusta. It also virtually guarantees the fact that the Berckmans stub will end up being absorbed by the Augusta National.
Maps detailing the latest version of the project, which differs significantly from earlier plans, were spread across the Julian Smith Casino, allowing the public to evaluate the changes and see who will be affected, and how badly.
Though not the final design, it nevertheless represents the final basic recommendation, though officials at the meeting were quick to point out that there would still be room to work with individual landowners regarding certain specific details of the road.
“Last meeting, we had a variety of different alignments that we were investigating and wanted to get public opinion on,” said Bryan Letourneau, a senior project manager at Pond and Company, a Norcross-based engineering consulting firm. “We received that public comment and went back to our analysis and such, and this is the preferred option we worked out with the city.”
According to Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell, the realignment’s design was funded as part of the last SPLOST package, though until the recently passed TSPLOST, no construction funding existed for the project, estimated to cost well over $16 million.
The plan was generally well received by the hundred or so in attendance, most of whom considered it an improvement on the earlier designs, which were criticized for being too big. Area residents have long been uneasy about the amount of land needed for the expansion as well as how the expanded road will increase traffic along the route.
“Last meeting we showed it as a four lane divided section,” Letourneau said. “As we went back and received comments from the public and finished our traffic projections, we were able to do a three lane section, which is two lanes in each direction and then a center lane.”
From Wheeler to Ingleside, the proposed road is flanked by a five-foot sidewalk on the east side and an eight-foot multi-use path on the west side. The five-foot sidewalk ends at the roundabout, planners said, mostly because there’s really nothing north of the roundabout for the sidewalk to serve.
Which brings up two of the more significant issues of the project: the roundabout and the conspicuous lack of residential property north of it.
First, the roundabout. According to Letourneau, the city wants the roundabout because it would provide a safer traffic environment.
“It provides a speed brake type of thing between the two major roads, and it’s got a little more of a neighborhood feel,” he said.
But does the intersection really merit a roundabout?
Letourneau admitted Ingleside doesn’t carry a large amount of traffic.
“It’s really about the distribution of traffic more than the pure volume of traffic,” he said, adding that for a roundabout to be considered, one road can’t completely dominate the other. In this case, Ingleside provides enough traffic of its own.
As for the lack of residential property, that, of course, is all the Augusta National’s doing. Over the years, the national has systematically bought what amounts to an entire neighborhood, turning it into Masters parking.
Critics and cynics contend the whole redesign is nothing but a way to aid Masters traffic flow and give the national the stub of road formed by pulling Berckmans to Alexander.
Letourneau stepped carefully around the subject.
“There’s a process for what the city would do with what would be, essentially, an abandoned road,” he said. “They could keep it open to provide access to the homes that have access today, but if it is really, truly abandoned, then the city can decide what they want to do with it. They could keep it…”
Or they could make an arrangement with the Augusta National, because at that point, it would basically be a road in the midst of their property?
“Correct,” he said. “But that’s a separate process. All we can say is, if we move the road, that will close that off and you (the city of Augusta) can do what you will with it.”
Though nothing is going to happen soon — Letourneau estimated right of way acquisition would probably begin late next year — the national, at least, has proved to be steady-eyed and patient when it comes to getting what it wants.You Might Also Like: