Kulash steps away from Houston Road project
Consultant criticizes Bibb roads program's lack of vision
By Jennifer Plunkett
The Macon Telegraph
R oads consultant Walter Kulash criticized the county roads program Tuesday for lacking vision and removed himself from review of the Houston Road project, which officials said would proceed without his involvement.
Kulash questioned plans to widen Houston Road to five lanes and said overall plans for south Bibb County need a more comprehensive review than the one he has been hired to do.
Kulash's withdrawal from the Houston Road portion of the Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Program was announced Tuesday by Moreland Altobelli executives to Bibb County Commissioners at the commission's public works and engineering committee meeting.
"The residents asked for Kulash, and we gave them Kulash," said Commissioner Joe Allen, who last year requested that Kulash review Houston Road plans. "If he had a problem, he should have come to me. He backed out of what we asked him to do. Now I have to support the professionals and what the majority of people voted for. It's the right thing to do."
Kulash was hired by program manager Moreland Altobelli in response to residents' complaints about the impact of road projects on neighborhoods. Neighbors have questioned the need for projects and called for preservation of historic and scenic areas.
Program manager Van Ethridge said the project would proceed with plans to widen Houston Road to four lanes with a fifth-lane median. Right-of-way acquisition is under way for the project, and bids will be solicited beginning in February. Construction will start shortly after a contractor is selected.
"Our studies show that it doesn't matter what you do to (Houston Road), it has to be four lanes," Ethridge said.
County officials questioned Kulash's right to practice engineering and said he was licensed in Florida, not Georgia.
"That's the kind of ugliness that's become part of this," Kulash said. "Registration is reciprocal between states. With just a little paperwork, I could be registered in Georgia quickly. That should not be made an issue. And that's why we're declining to be involved in Houston Road."
In any future assignments from the road program, Kulash said his comments will be limited to design modifications on sidewalks, shoulders and turning lanes.
"The citizen advocates who are very eager for any sort of assistance at all have been in favor of us getting involved in more and more things," Kulash said. "But our concern is that it's probably not effective, not good business for us to do that. We would much rather be working with places that are progressing more with good design."
Also Tuesday, Bibb County Commission Chairman Larry Justice said if designs for Wesleyan Drive do not meet the standards of the state Department of Transportation, the project likely will be dropped from the program.
The county would then be left to address safety problems at certain intersections, he said.
Commissioner Dennis Dorsey asked County Engineer Bob Fountain if the county had data that documented safety hazards on Wesleyan Drive and whether Fountain believed wider lanes increased driving speed.
Fountain said speed studies and accident reports were used in determining the need to improve Wesleyan Drive.
"We build for margins of safety," Fountain said. "And margins of safety are our lane widths."
County traffic engineers will conduct speed studies on two completed projects, Northside Drive and Anthony Road, to see if wider roads and fewer trees in rights of way encourage faster driving. Moreland Altobelli project manager Van Ethridge also updated commissioners on the status of all projects in the $300 million road program.
Here are some of the highlights:
The road program's executive committee will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the Bibb County Commission chambers on the fourth floor of the County Courthouse. Included on the agenda is the technical advisory committee's recommendation on Houston Road and an update on the sidewalk projects included in the program.