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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Homeowners learn more about Berckmans Road widening, realignment

Staff Writer
MEG MIRSHAK/STAFF
Five routes were unveiled Tuesday to realign the existing northern section of Berckmans Road with Alexander Drive.
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Homeowners near the proposed Berckmans Road widening and realignment learned more Tuesday night about routes that would cut through their front yards if the project moves forward.

At a public meeting, five routes were unveiled to realign the existing northern section of Berckmans Road with Alexander Drive less than a half-mile west of its current intersection with Washington Road. Conceptual designs propose building a new road starting at Heath Drive that meets the current Stanley Drive where a few houses are located.

Four routes, differing by slight curvatures, cut diagonally through property owned by Augusta National Golf Club and used as parking lots one week a year during the Masters Tournament. The fifth route makes a big curve to the west, bypassing Augusta National property, running behind the Publix Supermarket and then meeting Stanley Drive.

The new road segment would be four lanes divided by an 18-foot-wide, landscaped median with left turn lanes at key intersections. An estimated 107 feet to 120 feet would be needed for rights-of-way acquisition, according to a fact sheet provided to The Augusta Chronicle by Augusta Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell.

About 50 parcels are affected by potential rights-of-way use and temporary or permanent easements.

Stanley Drive homeowner Elizabeth Thacker said several of the proposed routes cut through her front yard, taking out trees and shrubbery. Although she’s reluctant to see the project moving forward, Thacker prefers the route that makes the steepest curve and avoids her lot and a rental property on the west side of Stanley Drive.

From Wheeler Road to Ingleside Drive, the existing two-lane path would be widened to add a center left turn lane. The rights-of-way width is estimated at 83 feet to 95 feet.

Funding for the $20.3 million project awaits a July 31 vote on a special 1 percent transportation tax referendum. Using referendum funding, the project is scheduled to begin in 2020, with completion by 2022.

Cassell said there are no alternates for funding at this time but said an earlier start date could be possible.

“Nothing has been decided. There’s a lot that has to happen in this project,” Cassell said.

He said the public comments would help decide the preferred realignment. More than 200 people attended in the first two hours of the three-hour meeting at Julian Smith Casino.

He also said no decisions have been made concerning the traffic light at Berckmans Road and Washington Road at the National Hills Shopping Center or what to do with the existing road if it is replaced.

Stephen Douglas owns a house on the 300 block of Heath Drive, just yards from Berckmans Road. Although the road could take away part of his yard, he favors the realignment if it benefits the Masters Tournament and moves noisy traffic farther from the golf course.

“Something needs to be done,” Douglas said.

Others at the meeting, including Sam Johnson, were concerned about the realignment negatively affecting their quick access to Surrey Center and Wheeler Road. Johnson said the project could influence his vote on the transportation tax referendum.

“I’m happy the way it is. I think it’s a waste of money,” said Johnson, who lives in the Forest Park neighborhood. “I think the Augusta National is behind it. They have some of the powers that be.”

Cassell declined to comment on input, if any, from Augusta National.

The plan also shows a new entrance to the Brookside West Apartment Complex that would align with Wicklow Drive, and a replacement of the Rae’s Creek bridge, which the report calls “structurally insufficient.”

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