Barrow's left turn lane on Ga. 211 to finish under budget

WINDER -- One of central Barrow County's most urgently needed road improvements is nearing completion sooner than planned, and even better, more affordably.

Highly awaited installation of a left turn lane on Ga. Highway 211 at Barrow Park Drive is nearing completion at less than half what financially beleaguered Barrow would have paid had it not done most of the work itself.

The Barrow County Commission at its meeting Tuesday awarded an $88,712 paving contract to Baldwin Paving, the lowest of nine bids the county received. Already completed by the county are the engineering, drainage piping and grading. After Baldwin paves, GDOT is scheduled to relocate the guard rail and restripe. Barrow Engineering Department Manager Darrell Greeson said the job, originally targeted for completion in November, could be done by month's end.

The project came sharply into focus in August, after two motorists were injured on the busy, two-lane highway in eight days. As motorists stopped to turn left to the county's new courthouse on Barrow Park Drive, drivers following on the 55 mph downhill grade have struggled to stop behind them.

One accident occurred the day after the Georgia Department of Transportation erected signs on the busy highway's shoulder, cautioning drivers to watch for vehicles attempting the turn.

Working with county employees there for three weeks, Greeson said he cringed the several times daily he heard screeching tires and witnessed near misses.

"You never know exactly how helpful something like this will be," he said, "but what we're doing should help quite a bit."

A highway surveyor by education, Greeson said he saved the county considerably by himself designing the 605-foot approach taper from the south to a 275-foot turn lane. Ultimately, the road would be widened 14 feet and the south-bound lane offset.

Greeson said the job will cost Barrow about $108,000, not the nearly $350,000 he estimated it might have, especially if an engineering firm were involved. The design was made challenging by a drop-off on one side of Highway 211 and the entrance to the Moose Lodge at 434 Ga. Highway 211 on the other.

"Me and you did a lot of running back and forth to Atlanta (for GDOT meetings)," Commission Chairman Danny Yearwood said in praising Greeson, "but I want you to know it's worth it."

Commissioner Isaiah Berry, long outspoken about the need for the turn lane, once publicly said he'd resign as commissioner if a child were killed there.

"This should have been done a long time ago, but better late than never," he had said in August, when the county approved the project. Tuesday he said, "I'm proud of the fact (Greeson) jumped right on this, and we were able to get this done. We probably won't have any loss of life like we would have."

In a separate development, after emerging from executive session, the commission voted to accept the resignation and severance package of embattled Human Resources Director Norma Jean Brown, who had been on administrative leave since early September.

Brown, embroiled in several Equal Employment Opportunity Council cases, had been suspended by the board for alleged breech of confidentiality, alleged to have shared information from non-public executive session.

Her departure is another noteworthy one in Barrow, just months after Donald Towne was dismissed by the commission after a brief stint as county fire chief. Towne was let go after his arrest for alleged theft of cable television services in Cairo, where he was fire chief before coming to Barrow.