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The Road Ahead: Sales tax would address unfinished Rabun project

POSTED: June 25, 2012 11:31 p.m.

A southbound exit ramp on U.S. 441 at Rabun County High School was in the plans at one time.

“But for cost-cutting reasons, it was taken out,” said Stanley “Butch” Darnell, chairman of the Rabun County Board of Commissioners.

If the July 31 transportation sales tax vote passes in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, the ramp would be restored, this time as a $3.2 million project with a projected completion of 2013-15.

And that should help ease traffic congestion, particularly at the Boggs Mountain Road intersection farther south on U.S. 441.

The area serves as a hub for county schools and services, “and there’s some prime commercial property ... that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, is going to be developed in some form or fashion,” County Administrator Jim Bleckley said.

“There is just more and more pressure on that area with heavy, heavy traffic.”

Rabun County would receive $8.9 million for three road projects, if the tax passes, with U.S. 441 widening from Clayton’s north city limits to North Carolina — a 7.2-mile stretch — as the biggest project.

The widening is estimated to cost $65.5 million overall, with $5 million coming from the sales tax and the remaining $60.5 million from federal and state sources.

U.S. 441 already is four lanes as it travels through Clayton, with commercial development on either side. The road also serves as a busy route for travelers passing through on their way to North Carolina and popular mountain destinations.

“The big problem there is the (road) narrows down to three lanes at Mountain City and, in the summertime, you could wait up to an hour to get through there,” Darnell said.

The U.S. 441 widening project has been on the books a while.

Les “Buzz Saw” Henderson, owner of Bear Country Gifts, which is off the road north of Clayton, recalled going to a Georgia Department of Transportation meeting on the project in the early 1990s.

He hopes the road widening won’t take any of his property, “but anytime they do a road, if affects businesses, and I’ve kind of prepared for it. I’ve bought another store in Wiley (south of Clayton) because the road has already been widened down there.”

Henderson said some businesses have closed already anticipating the project, which calls for a widening to four lanes with a depressed grass median and 20-foot raised median.

“They want to get the traffic through, but when you get (motorists) speeded up, it’s hard to get them to come in and shop,” he said.

As for the tax itself, “I believe in progressive spending, but most of the time, it’s always somebody helping somebody getting a contract,” Henderson said. “I want it to be conducive to our environment here, not destroy the beauty of this area.”

He added, with a laugh: “I’ll probably vote yes, then regret it later.”

The county’s other road project calls for $700,000 to fix a curve on U.S. 76/Ga. 2 at the Clayton city limits.

“If you meet a tractor-trailer or big truck coming (there), one of you is going to have to leave the pavement,” Darnell said.


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