Aside from some landscaping, the Harden Hill sidewalk project is finished. The sidewalks are five feet wide, which is comparable to the sidewalks on VFW Drive, and extend from Main Street to New High Shoals Drive for 4,300 linear feet. New curbs and gutters have been installed.

In September 2018, city officials said they’d hope to finish the sidewalk project by spring of 2019 at a cost of $908,000. More than a year later, the cost has risen to $1.765 million, which includes easement acquisition, surveying, design, engineering and construction of three different phases.

A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at the bridge on Monday at 5:30 p.m. 

Early in the process, the city applied for a state grant that required the project to address storm water management and pedestrian safety elements, such as the new signalized pedestrian crossings at the entry to Watkinsville Woods and on Water Street. 

“These additional improvements will have long-term benefits to the city and environment but did add to the overall cost of the project,” City Manager Sharyn Dickerson stated in a May 14 memo to the City Council.

There were additional delays associated with right-of-way negotiations with Howard and Linda Abney, who live at 33 Harden Hill Road, and with Ashford Memorial Methodist, which took the city to court with what was called “friendly condemnation” proceedings.

By April 2019, the Watkinsville City Council voted to spend about $1.1 million to hire Athens-based Structural Resources Inc. for the first two phases of the Harden Hill sidewalk project. In September 2019, the council voted to purchase the bridge for phase III. Then in October, the council awarded a contract to Structural Resources Inc. for construction of the bridge. To fund the expense, the council approved designating an additional $255,769 from the SPLOST II roads, streets and bridges account. 

The bridge is designed in such away to be ADA accessible, minimize how much of an easement was needed to purchase from property owners and to avoid a power pole that Georgia Power wanted to charge a lot to move, said Councilman Brian Brodrick.

One of the roadblocks that the city encountered was the fault of the county government. In October, Structural Resources Inc. encountered both sanitary sewer utility lines and water utility lines that had not been properly marked by Oconee Water Resources, according to Dickerson’s memo. On Oct. 24, the city and contractor met with representatives from Georgia Power to discuss options to reduce the estimated $47,625 in power pole relocation costs.

Ultimately, staff worked to revise design plans and construction to eliminate the utility pole conflicts, saving the city about $45,000, noted Dickerson.

On May 13, 2020, the pedestrian bridge was installed. It is 100 feet long by six-feet wide and designed by the same supplier that designed the Harris shoals Park pedestrian bridge, which was installed in 2011.  

In the past 40 years, more than 350 homes have been built that connect directly to Harden Hill Road. More than 1,000 residents live along or adjacent to the corridor, including the neighborhoods of Christian Lake, Marshall Estates and Cedar Hills. 

Harden Hill transports more than 2,100 vehicles per day, making it one of the busiest local routes in Watkinsville, Dickerson stated in her memo.

“Sidewalks have historically been one of the most requested public works projects in the city,” according to the memo. “But due to funding, engineering and road ownership issues, sidewalks have been slow to come to fruition.”

For more on this story, see the June 25 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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