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Eyes on the Road: Indiana bat studies delay trail system

POSTED: August 12, 2013 12:06 a.m.

Bidding on three key parts of the planned Central Hall Multiuse Trail has been pushed off to April.

The dates “were adjusted to allow for the Indiana bat studies,” said Jody Woodall of the Hall County engineering department.

The Indiana bat is a federally threatened or endangered species that has been spotted in Georgia. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the bat was listed as an endangered species in 1967 “due to episodes of people disturbing hibernating bats in caves during winter and killing large numbers of bats.”

“All federally funded projects are having to study the bat as part of” National Environmental Policy Act requirements, Woodall said.

Hall is planning to build a multiuse trail that would run parallel to Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway from Palmour Drive to the Georgia Department of Labor Office, 2756 Atlanta Highway. A second phase calls for running the trail behind Lanier Technical College and the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.

A third project calls for construction of a pedestrian tunnel under Atlanta Highway.

“We have a few more parcels to acquire for right of way on the trail projects, “ Woodall said. “Once the right of way and utilities are certified, we will be able to bid the projects for construction.”

Officials had thought bidding on the trail, which also would cut through the historic Chicopee Village, could take place this month.

When work does get going, construction is then estimated to take 8-12 months, Woodall has said.

SRTA official to give update on I-85 HOT lanes

Chris Tomlinson, executive director for the State Road and Tollway Authority, is scheduled to talk Wednesday to State Transportation Board of Georgia members about Interstate 85’s high-occupancy-toll lanes.

“He is giving a review of how the (lanes) are performing since opening,” said Jill Goldberg, a DOT spokeswoman, last week.

The HOT lanes debuted Oct. 1, 2011, running between Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County and Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County.

They enable drivers who have a “Peach Pass” sticker, or transponder, fixed to their windshield to travel without the congestion of other lanes but for a toll based on the level of traffic snarl.

Fees are waived for those driving motorcycles, alternative-fuel cars with proper license plates and vehicles carrying three or more people.

The lanes opened to a cool reception. At first, they were sparingly used, creating even more congestion along I-85. Motorists also criticized them, saying they resented a toll system on a road that’s already paid for.

As time went by, use picked up. Average weekday trips jumped to 16,916 in September 2012 from 7,273 in October 2011.

State plans call for extending the lanes to Hamilton Mill Road in Gwinnett County. The 10-mile project, running along I-85 and beginning at Old Peachtree Road, also involves construction of a bridge at Interstate 985, which cuts through North Gwinnett and South Hall en route to Gainesville.

Unlike the existing HOT lanes on I-85, the Express Lanes from Old Peachtree to Hamilton Mill Road will involve building new lanes, rather than converting existing high-occupancy-vehicle, or HOV, lanes.

“This will add new capacity to the corridor while providing options for reliable trip times,” DOT officials have said.

Plans call for a draft environmental assessment to be completed by December and another public hearing in the spring of 2014.

The project could go out to bid in spring 2015, with construction starting in the fall of that year and the new lanes open to traffic in 2017, the DOT has stated.

Jeff Gill covers transportation issues for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with him:

jgill@gainesvilletimes.com

facebook.com/jeffagill

@JeffGTimes


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