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Column: Traffic in, around Gainesville predates four-lane roadways
Johnny Vardeman

It is hard to imagine today how we would navigate the traffic if we didn’t have Interstate 985, Ga. Highway 365 and Interstate 85. 

Who could remember the days when two-lane, often curvy roads were the only main routes out of Gainesville? 

Trips to Atlanta from Gainesville were slow, an hour at best, on the two-lane U.S. Highway 23. It didn’t bypass towns like I-985 and I-85 do today. You would mosey right through places such as Flowery Branch, tiny Rest Haven, Buford, Sugar Hill, Suwanee, Duluth and Norcross before reaching the outskirts of the city. 

If you got behind a truck, there were few places to pass, and then it was a great risk because of traffic heading toward you. There were restaurants, motels and other businesses along the way where you could pause a moment. But for the most part, it could be a slow and frustrating drive.  

When you got into Atlanta, however, it seemed to be less stressful to get around than it is today. There was comparatively less congestion, and places were easier to find 

The Gainesville-Atlanta Highway was similar in difficulty to U.S. 23 going north, what we know today as Old Cornelia Highway. It was curvier, however, with fewer places to pass on the two-lane highway. Accidents on that stretch of road were common, although Ga. 365, which replaces it, also has a high accident rate. 

In the summer, traffic was even more hazardous as locals traveled to the peach orchards. Unlike today’s Jaemor Farms on Ga. 365, little peach stands dotted the highway. There was precious little space to pull off and park at some of these, and customers had to beware of vehicles rushing over the many hills. 

That route led you right through Lula, Alto, Baldwin and Cornelia before reaching Toccoa and South Carolina farther up. 

Much of today’s Gainesville-Cleveland Highway remains two lanes, but improvements over the years have provided more places to pass and some widened sections. The U.S. 129 route no longer goes through downtown Clermont, though it does go through Quillians Corner. 

When you get to Cleveland, you don’t have to go through downtown and around the historic courthouse on the square. Bypasses in recent years have taken you all around the central business district. 

Before the improvements, traffic would back up for miles along the two-lane U.S. 129 during the fall leaf season. There was no bypass around Gainesville, and a lot of leaf-lookers wanted to ride through Green Street anyway. 

Gainesville-to-Athens, U.S. 129 South, was a bear back in the day, too. Much of that highway today is four lanes, and all of it should be in a few months. On football Saturdays in Athens, there was always a jam as you made your way through the Jefferson square. Today, all the towns along the way are bypassed, making it a smoother trip, but congestion still develops, especially when the University of Georgia Bulldogs are playing in Athens. 

Ga. 60 North to Dahlonega from Gainesville remains mostly two lanes with few places to pass, but that road also is better to navigate than a few years back. Ga. 60 south of Gainesville once was a leisurely drive, but industrial development with heavy truck traffic along two lanes makes it a hazardous ride. 

Ga. 369 out of Gainesville, Browns Bridge Road, is perhaps the most in need of widening and improving. Traffic is heavy on this route because of Lake Lanier and its attraction of more development. Likewise, Ga. 53, or Dawsonville Highway, has become one of the more congested in the area, especially the closer you get to Gainesville, another impact of Lake Lanier. 

With more dense developments approved regularly, traffic and congestion aren’t likely to be relieved any time soon, especially with the slow pace of road improvements. That was probably what people said back in the days of only two-lane highways.  

Probably a similar sentiment back when all the roads were dirt and dusty in the summer and muddy and rutted in the winter. 

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or His column publishes weekly.