Liberty County officials are looking at where they can get the money to pay for their end of the Highway 84 bypass.
The bypass, which will be 2.6 miles long, will tie Highway 84 into Highway 119, going around Walthourville. The state Department of Transportation has acquired the necessary rights-of-way, County Administrator Joey Brown said, and all of the environmental studies needed have been done and sent to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.
While the state is paying for construction, estimated to be just over $29 million, the cost for utilities relocation and purchasing wetlands credits falls on the county. Those costs, Brown said, could run to a total of almost $3.2 million.
“The bad news is we’re still trying to find money for environmental credits and utilities relocation,” he said.
As the project’s local sponsor, the county is responsible for buying the local wetlands credits and paying for utilities relocations.
“Right now, there is no funding for that,” Brown said.
If the project can’t be funded, Brown said, the state DOT will shelve it until funding is secured.
The problem with that, Brown added, is that the environmental studies permits and wetlands certifications might expire before the construction begins.
“And construction costs are going to go up,” he said.
Brown said he has put in a request for federal earmarks, but even that will take time. The county won’t know if its earmark request is approved until February 2024 and those funds wouldn’t get to the DOT until 2025.
Brown suggested to county commissioners that they could use bonds and repay those with proceeds from the transportation special purpose local option sales tax, which comes up for a renewal vote next year. The county has spent close to $2 million on the project over the last 10 years, Brown said.
The DOT has an October let date, the time when it will put the construction of the bypass out for bid. Brown said the county needs to tell the DOT what it plans to do to fund the utilities and wetlands portion of it within the next 60 days.
The 2.6-mile-long road will be two lanes, with one end about a half-mile south of where 119 and 84 intersect currently and the other end about a half mile east of where Tibet Road crosses Highway 119.
The bypass will run east parallel to Highway 119, with a bridge over the CSX railroad line and two large wetlands on each side of the railroad. The connector will intersect with Arnold Drive, Carter Drive, Walthourville Cemetery Road and Tibet Road before tying back into 119.