One of Villa Rica’s most heavily traveled roads needs serious — and expensive — repair.
Punkintown Road, which begins at the Dallas Highway and becomes Mirror Lake Boulevard just south of the Mirror Lake community, carries hundreds of vehicles each day. But city officials say that it does not have a proper roadbed and is essentially layers of asphalt poured over bare earth. And in some places the shoulders of the road are too narrow, causing potential traffic hazards.
For several months, city officials have been sounding the alarm about the road, which links Interstate 20 to Georgia Highway 61. Earlier this month, the City Council committed itself to a plan that will start to address some of the main concerns about the road.
But it is an expensive solution and dependent on next month’s vote by Carroll County residents whether to renew the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. In fact, the project’s $4 million price tag represents almost half of the revenues the city expects to receive from the entire six-year term of the SPLOST.
On Feb. 8, the council voted to participate in Carroll County’s planned $40 million general obligation (G.O.) bond, which the county intends to use for its own slate of SPLOST projects. The bond can be considered a giant loan that the county plans to use to fund its projects up front, without having to wait six years for all the revenues to be collected. Those revenues will be used to pay back the bond.
Villa Rica has, in effect, chosen to borrow $4 million of the county’s $40 million, and will repay both principal and interest on that slice of the bond. By doing so, city officials can begin the critical work needed on Punkintown Road immediately without waiting to collect the money from the city’s annual share of the revenue.
But all this depends on whether the county receives its bond, which also is contingent on whether the referendum to continue the SPLOST passes on March 16.
The tax has been continually renewed in Carroll County since it was first levied in 1987, and the three-week early voting period for the referendum begins on Feb. 22. SPLOST adds 1% to the cost of virtually every retail purchase in the county and is what pays for most of the capital projects done by all local governments: projects such as gymnasiums, bridges, facilities and roads.
Villa Rica already plans to use $3 million of the $9 million it expects to receive from SPLOST proceeds to pay for road resurfacing over the next six years — or $500,000 per year. With the Punkintown Road project added, that will leave $2 million for park improvements and other city needs, including new vehicles for the police department.
The fact that the Punkintown Road project will consume so much of the city’s SPLOST allocation has not gone without notice.
At the Feb. 8 council meeting, Mayor Gil McDougal noted that the project would be “an extraordinary expense” for the city, a project that will essentially involve rebuilding the entire nearly 1-mile road.
Major roadbuilding projects are usually done by the state Department of Transportation, the deep-pockets agency responsible for Georgia’s highway system. But county and city roadwork are largely the responsibility of local governments.
Ward 4 Council Member Michael Young, whose ward includes the Mirror Lake community that depends on the road, noted his unenthusiastic support of participating in the county’s G.O. bond, saying he was voting in favor “reluctantly.”
He pointed out that had the council members acted differently eight years ago, the state — and not the city — would be paying for the project, and the city would have $4 million more in SPLOST revenue for its other serious needs.
In 2012, The Villa Rican reported on a huge debate over what was then called the Villa Rica Bypass, a two-part solution to traffic congestion that would involve a North Loop and an East Loop to connect Highway 61, bypassing its downtown section. The North Loop eventually received state funding and is expected to begin work within months.
However, the East Loop, which would have followed the course of Punkintown Road, was abandoned over the adamant feelings of some residents that it would increase truck and other traffic through the residential area.
Yet that has happened anyway. As Villa Rica has exploded in population, so has traffic overall across the city. The quick connection Punkintown affords to I-20 has caused an increase in vehicular traffic, particularly heavy trucks. Over the past two years, the City Council has heard complaints from Mirror Lake and other residents over the speed and volume of such traffic.
And that has only increased the wear and tear on a roadway that was never meant to carry such a load.
“Here we have yet another example of hindsight being so much clearer than foresight,” Young said before the vote. “Or maybe it’s just ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ I don’t think anyone in the city, let alone the City Council, realized … that our desire to not participate in the East loop of the Villa Rica bypass would cause the city — read that as the citizens of Villa Rica — to have to repair Punkintown Road at a cost of $4 million, the creation of a general obligation bond and interest fees of over $700,000, and a bond premium of $575,000.”
Young said that it was “safe to say” that if the current situation was understood in 2012, the decisions on the East Loop would have been different and “would have the state pay for the road rather than our citizens.”
Regardless of past decisions, the current conditions of Punkintown Road warrant immediate action, according to City Manager Tom Barber, who has starkly laid out the situation.
In the Feb. 8 work session, Barber said “as best I can tell” there is no engineered base for the thoroughfare.
“That road is 100% asphalt,” he said, essentially asphalt poured over bare dirt.
What’s more, the road is rough and uneven, due to successive re-pourings of asphalt. Usually, roads are periodically milled, or ground down and the surface smoothed. But Barber said that based on core samples he’s had done, it’s evident that has not happened recently on Punkintown.
“There are places out there where the asphalt is 10 inches thick, where we didn’t mill; we just topcoated and topcoated and topcoated.”
Also, the road is too narrow in places and the thickness of the pavement has caused trucks and other vehicles to drop off the shoulder of the roadway, presenting a significant hazard for accidents.
As a result, according to Mayor McDougal, the city will “have to go all the way down to the dirt and rebuild the base” of Punkintown, as well address, if possible, the width issues and other matters.
As expensive as the project is, Barber has told council members, “We’re not going to know how much we can do,” with the $4 million bond until the city begins the design and engineering part of the process.
Participating in the county’s bond, he said, allows the city to begin work on the project immediately. Otherwise, the city would have to wait until the third year of the SPLOST for accrued revenues to allow the city to do anything.
“[If] the SPLOST passes, I want this to be something that we jump on as fast as we can,” Barber said.