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Sellers, shoppers happy that DOT restarted work in downtown Cleveland

POSTED: March 9, 2009 11:36 p.m.

A better square is coming

Watch W. Sam Dixon of Norton-Dixon Insurance in Cleveland talk about scrapes with sharp-turning traffic that his business has taken over the years.

SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Georgia Department of Transportation district signal engineer Steve Jones paints a line indicating where a hole for a traffic light pole will be placed Monday in Cleveland.

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CLEVELAND — W. Sam Dixon’s business is like an aging boxer who has taken a steady share of blows to the jaw over the years.

More than one motorist unable to make the sharp turn from U.S. 129 North to Ga. 115 East has lost control in the busy bottleneck that is the Cleveland Square and pummeled Norton-Dixon Insurance, which sits on the corner just feet from the pavement.

"In May of 2007, one (vehicle) went right through that second wall right past the door into my personal office," Dixon said, pointing to side of the building that took the shot. "I was at lunch, thank goodness."

Traffic and pedestrian woes — including fewcrosswalks — have long dogged the downtown square, particularly as the number of residents and tourists have increased.

But a Georgia Department of Transportation project that resumed Monday after some unforeseen delays promises to bring relief.

In addition, local efforts are taking place to help beautify the square, include trees and ornamental street lighting.

"We’ve been trying for 20 years to get this project going," said Dixon.

Work began in the fall on the project, which involves expanding the turning radius from Ga. 115 East to U.S. 129 South, the construction of three crosswalks and the installation of pedestrian signals to allow protected walking access across U.S. 129 and Ga. 115.

The state was in the middle of upgrades in October when workers, digging to pour concrete footings at U.S. 129 and Ga. 115 for the last of three traffic poles, struck two underground storage tanks.

The state stopped the project and plugged the holes with steel plates, later learning that a Pure gas station occupied the lot near the tanks in the early 1960s. Dixon’s business now sits on the property.

A DOT signal crew was set to start Monday pouring the footings. The concrete then must have time to cure, which could take between two and four weeks, said DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope.

The last phase of work, which will take about two weeks, weather permitting, will involve the workers setting decorative mast arms and then installing new traffic signals and doing other electrical work.

Lane closings are expected during the rest of the work, Pope said.

But Maria Jurado-Flynn, executive director of Cleveland Better Home Town, believes the benefits of the work will far outweigh any short-term inconveniences.

"When you’re making these types of changes, it really goes to the very core of what little towns or small communities try to do, and that is preserve their downtowns," she said. "And so, it creates a sense of place."

Jurado-Flynn, whose office just sits off the square, said she also senses that the improvements will create a "friendlier place for people to congregate and ... create an environment where other businesses will be drawn into the downtown."

Morris Chanup lives in Helen but visits downtown Cleveland fairly often. He was shopping Monday morning at Griffin Drug Center.

He said that after he suffered a stroke, he stopped parking where he couldn’t have easy access to a store.

"It’s so crowded now, you can hardly get around the square," Chanup said.

Chanup said the square improvements, particularly crosswalks, might encourage him, however, to walk a longer distance as needed.

Dixon could relate to pedestrian headaches.

"I walk everywhere I go in the downtown area, and I just dodge bullets," he said.



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