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The Road Ahead: US 129 would highlight project in White County

Construction on Cleveland Bypass is planned to start this summer

POSTED: June 29, 2012 11:39 p.m.

Passage of the July 31 sales tax could throw White County, a busy tourism spot and hub for mountain travelers, into the spotlight.

Known for rural two-lanes, scenic vistas and home to the Alpine village of Helen, the North Georgia county could be home to a vastly improved passageway leading residents to Gainesville and beyond.

If the tax is approved in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, which includes Hall, some $55 million in 2011 dollars would go toward projects affecting U.S. 129, an artery that winds from Hall to Union counties.

“I don’t think we have any choice but to vote for it,” said Lamar London, a Cleveland resident and Georgia Department of Transportation retiree. “We’ve got to have money for the roads and that’s the only way, I’d say, we’re going to get them.”

The DOT plans to start building the long-awaited Cleveland Bypass this summer. The $16.8 million project involves the construction of a four-lane road from U.S. 129 at Hope Drive to Ga. 115, a nearly two-mile stretch.

The contract stipulates a completion date of Dec. 31, 2014.

About $11 million from the sales tax would be spent on extending the bypass from Ga. 115 to U.S. 129, a distance of 1.75 miles. The project, which would be completed by 2019, is estimated to cost $19.8 million, with the balance of funding coming from federal and state gas tax money.

In addition, U.S. 129 would be widened to four lanes from Hall County to Hope Drive.

That project is estimate to cost some $44 million, with all of the money coming from the transportation sales tax.

Tack that onto Hall County’s plans to widen Limestone to White County and U.S. 129 South from Gillsville Highway to Jackson County, and the entire project “is huge, regionally,” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s District 1, which includes Hall and White.

Put in perspective, for White County, “there is almost as much east-west traffic coming through Cleveland as there is north-south traffic, so ... going ahead and generating the thought about completing the (bypass) is very important for us,” said Tom O’Bryant, White’s director of community and economic development.

A third phase of the project calls for extending the bypass from U.S. 129 at Hulsey Road to Ga. 75 on the north side of town.

A group of residents that meets regularly for breakfast at Glenda’s restaurant at 286 S. Main St., Cleveland, had a few things to say about the proposed sales tax.

London is a big proponent.

“If you ride around anywhere in the county, roads are in bad shape and something has got to be done,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more it costs.”

Shirley McDonald of Cleveland isn’t so sure.

“I’m still thinking about it. ... I see the good parts of it, but the political part, I don’t trust,” she said. “I’m a little leery.”

Elsie Maloy, who lives at the Lumpkin-White County line, said she believes the “only fair way to get more money (for roads) is to do it with tourists and that’s primarily where my sales come from.”

Maloy owns A Victorian Cowgirl, a business on John Crow Road near Turners Corner.

The Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which paved the way for the referendum, calls for 75 percent of revenues to be spent on regional projects and 25 percent for local governments to spend as they see fit, such as paving projects.

The 25 percent possibilities give Maloy some pause for concern.

“My business and little farm is on a dirt road,” she said. “I have mixed feelings as to whether it would help if that road were paved. It’s a hard-packed road and there’s just a certain ambience about that road. ... I think it would quickly become a thoroughfare.”


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