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Johnny Vardeman: Traffic woes on local roads are nothing new
Johnny Vardeman

Transportation has been a big issue in Georgia, especially around metropolitan Atlanta for many years now.

It is high on legislators’ minds as they meet in the state Capitol this month. Infrastructure improvements are on the priority list in the nation’s capital.

Traffic is such a menace in the Atlanta area, a lack of solutions might put in peril attracting such high-profile corporations as Amazon. The prospect of such economic developments is causing more serious talk about expanding rapid transit.

Atlanta’s original name was Terminus because it had become a railroad center. Leaders back in that day promoted rail as an asset to attract more business and industry.

Gainesville evolved because Indian Trails led traders to what was once known as Mule Camp Springs. Over the years, there have been interesting tugs of war over the location of rail lines and railroads. As a new railroad was being built from Atlanta to Charlotte, local leaders pushed for a route that would run close to the Gainesville square.

Many towns, Commerce, Flowery Branch, Lula and Gillsville among them, grew up with railroads running down or near the middle of town. Lula has its own depot, but at one time was considered a major stop with a larger depot. Lower land prices at the time in Gainesville caused the major depot to land there.

The railroad laid the tracks a mile south of the square, where the present Norfolk-Southern lines run. That caused the city to spread in that direction with businesses, eateries and even Gen. James Longstreet’s Piedmont Hotel. Eventually, streetcars ran from the depot to the square and later to Riverside and New Holland.

The Atlanta Highway, part of U.S. 23 to New York City, was paved through Gainesville in 1928. It followed what was then known as Broad Street, most of which is now known as Jesse Jewell Parkway.

That transportation route turned into a controversy in 1945 when the state wanted to build a four-lane from Flowery Branch through New Holland. Local leaders had pressed for it before World War II. Gainesville apparently opposed the widened route unless it followed Broad Street through the city, so it was never built.

Broad Street, now four-lane Jesse Jewell Parkway, has been widened a couple of times, but it continues to be one of the most congested routes through the city. Sections of the original Broad Street continue as two lanes from Green to Spring and from Main to West Academy streets.

One of the most notable disputes in Hall County’s transportation history concerned the location of Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Greenville, S.C. Local leaders thought they had the route coming through southern Hall County within 4 miles of Gainesville.

But then-Gov. Ernest Vandiver had the highway take a more southerly route through his home county of Franklin. Some viewed this as a blessing in disguise because a few years later, when Gov. Carl Sanders had influential friends from Hall County, the four-lane I-985 was built right through South Hall into Gainesville, extending into East Hall as Ga. 365. That highway also was good news for Habersham County, which had felt bypassed when the I-85 route was changed.

Meanwhile, transportation issues confound those in North Georgia. I-985 and Ga. 365 are congested at times. Leaders still hope for a more direct connection between Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road and Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway. Gainesville tries to figure out how to relieve congestion on interior routes such as Jesse Jewell, E.E. Butler Parkway and Green Street. Most options are expensive and threaten neighborhoods.

Long in the planning, widening of U.S. 129 North/Cleveland Road and South toward Athens are under construction. The U.S. 129 south widening will connect the already-widened route at Talmo and through Pendergrass, Jefferson and Arcade to Athens.

New bridges across Lake Lanier, another expensive proposition, already are being built in some locations and other are planned.

The number of new developments, residential and commercial, seemingly announced in the newspaper every other day, will put more vehicles on the streets and roads, adding to the pressure to find solutions to move traffic more efficiently.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501 or by e-mail here.