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Johnny Vardeman: Transportation plan in 1970s had hits, misses
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Transportation problems are a symptom of galloping growth, which comes in spurts according to the health of the economy.

Probably the most concern among motorists at the moment is the Gainesville-Dawsonville Highway area, where explosive growth continues to sprawl westward. That trend seemed to start with Lakeshore Mall just a few decades ago. It continued with developments such as Lowe’s and Wal-Mart on Shallowford Road, and Home Depot and a multitude of other businesses out Dawsonville Highway.

In recent years, the expansion grew farther westward with several name restaurants, Academy Sports and other retail, choking the four-lane road and feeder streets. Traffic studies try to stay ahead of the congestion, but they don’t always turn out to be accurate. It is hard to predict where high-traffic generating developments might sprout. Priorities change as conditions change.

Much hullabaloo was made over a 25-year Gainesville Area Transportation Plan in the 1970s. Some elements came to fruition, many didn’t, and some potential bottlenecks weren’t even considered.

Queen City Parkway did see its completion from Interstate 985 to what was then Broad Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway, and it’s actually extended farther today as John Morrow Parkway all the way to Dawsonville Highway. Likewise, Broad Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway, was widened to Atlanta Highway and Brown’s Bridge Road.

An extension of McEver Road from Dawsonville Highway to Brown’s Bridge Road also happened, as did the widening of Sycamore Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway, from Myrtle Street to Academy Street. Brown’s Bridge Road also was widened from Atlanta Highway to McEver Road.

Yet there were other plans that didn’t materialize for some reason or another as priorities changed, politics or funds shortages. For instance, Myrtle Street, MLK Drive, was supposed to be widened between E.E. Butler Parkway and Downey Boulevard.

In the 1970s, they were calling for an East Bypass, which ended up as Limestone Parkway, a heavily traveled connector between Cleveland Road and Jesse Jewell Parkway. That new road inspired intense development that continues, causing its intersection with Jesse Jewell Parkway to become one of the more congested areas in the county.

But the proposed widening of Clark’s Bridge Road in that plan from Limestone to the bridge over Lake Lanier didn’t happen. Neither did another brand new road, called Brenau Lake Parkway, connecting South Enota Drive with Limestone, perhaps because it would have disrupted the established Sherwood Heights neighborhood, not to mention high right-of-way costs.

Enota Avenue also would have been widened from Cleveland Road past the school to Cumberland Valley Road. A recently proposed rerouting of Enota in that area met enough opposition that it’s on a back burner, if on the stove at all.

An extension of the West Bypass, Pearl Nix Parkway, which runs by Lakeshore Mall to Dixon Drive and Chestatee Road, was in that 1970s plan. But it, too, seems waiting at a traffic light because of right-of-way costs and neighborhood opposition. Such an extension would carry it through established neighborhoods all the way to Thompson Bridge Road.

McEver Road was widened to Oakwood, but it was supposed to extend all the way to Flowery Branch by 1995. Thurmon Tanner Parkway, which wasn’t in the plan, now connects the two towns.

A final phase of the plan to be completed by 2000 would have widened Washington Street as well as Myrtle Street from Queen City Parkway to E.E. Butler. Old Athens Street was to be widened from Ridge Road to Myrtle Street or MLK. Some of the widening of Thompson Broad Road happened, as did Dawsonville Highway to Sardis Road.

The widening of Cleveland Road, except for a turn lane, remains on paper, although survey work and some right-of-way acquisition are ongoing. The road, as in the 1970s plan, is to be widened from Limestone Parkway to Longstreet Bridge. Eventual plans call for a doubling of the bridge, but that apparently isn’t in the immediate future.

That 25-year traffic plan would have completed a four-lane route all the way around Gainesville, including a connector from the West Bypass, Pearl Nix Parkway, to Limestone Parkway. It would have added a new bridge on Thompson Bridge Road, and as planned, it did double the bridges on Dawsonville Highway over Lake Lanier. According to the plan, Limestone Road, serving as an East Bypass, would eliminate the need for a new bridge on Cleveland Road.

Interestingly, planners back then didn’t mention Gainesville’s Green Street nor the now-controversial proposed I-985 Exit 14 between Oakwood and Flowery Branch.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.