It’s a tale of two sides of Exit 14.
As physically divisive as Interstate 985 is to Martin Road and H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway in South Hall, so are the views concerning the $27 million interchange that’s in construction plans, with work possibly starting as early as this fall.
“The basic bad thing about it is it dumps into a residential area — which is just wrong,” said Brad Farrow, a Martin Road resident helping lead the charge against the project. “The exit is not needed, and it is certainly not wanted.”
On the other side of the issue is Alex Wayne, a principal with Radial Property Group, a South Hall real estate firm and developer of Tanners Creek Business Park on Thurmon Tanner Parkway.
“I think it would be one of the largest economic development projects in the history of Hall County,” said Wayne, whose company has a sign at Thurmon Tanner and H.F. Reed, where the new project would happen.
“... I just think it would be incredibly short-sighted to try to derail a project like that, with all the incredible positive benefits (it would bring).”
Depending on who you talk to, buzz about the project began as long as 25-30 years ago, before South Hall began to boom residentially or commercially.
The interchange has been part of Hall County long-range transportation plans since 2003, said Hall County Planning Director Srikanth Yamala.
The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, named the project as its top priority in November 2012, at the request of Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs. Alan Wayne, also of Radial Property Group, voted for the measure; he couldn’t be reached for comment.
The project, however, didn’t get serious traction until August 2013, when the State Transportation Board designated and approved Georgia’s Freight Corridor Network, which includes I-985.
“Our region was fortunate enough to secure funding for the Exit 14 project in fall of 2014,” Yamala said.
The project calls for a diamond interchange connecting Martin Road at Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 on the east side of I-985 to H.F. Reed on the west side.
Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said that over the years, much of the public and private investment in South Hall has been based on the interchange being built.
Among the key transportation projects was Thurmon Tanner Parkway, which was built as a north-south four-lane road, running parallel to I-985 between Exit 12 in Flowery Branch and Exit 17 in Oakwood.
Also, the Georgia Department of Transportation rebuilt Exit 16 in Oakwood and widened Winder Highway/Ga. 53.
“This interchange ... is a critical project to connect our Oakwood South Industrial park to I-985 and connect to the other transportation improvements built in anticipation of Exit 14,” Brown said.
Larry Callahan, CEO of Pattillo Industrial Real Estate, developer of Oakwood South, said, “easy access to the interstate system is a key factor in corporate location decisions.
“Without a doubt, completing this new exit will be good for many businesses that employ thousands of Hall County residents. Further, it will help attract more employers to the area.”
Martin Road residents have another take on it. They worry it will vastly increase traffic on the two-lane curvy, hilly artery that runs between Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 and Winder Highway and past homes, neighborhoods and churches.
Residents have spoken at Hall County transportation meetings and submitted a letter that asks officials “to join us in stopping any work ... until Hall County can effectively perform necessary traffic studies (and) partner with the established community to find a safe solution.”
They also held a July 12 community meeting with Hall officials at Mulberry Creek Community Center off JM Turk Road, which juts off Martin Road.
“Nobody in this room is more angry about this plan and, after 25 years in the (military) service, I’ve seen a lot of screwed-up plans,” resident Al Harris said at the meeting.
Residents also dismiss the notion the project can’t be stopped.
“If it’s not bid (out), the ship has not sailed,” Chris Caudle said. “It’s not done.”
Earlier this year, area officials directed the MPO to conduct a study of Martin Road and possible traffic alternatives in that area.
A consultant could be on board by September, Yamala has said, adding that residents would be involved in the process.
“We want the community to be part of this study,” he said.
One company more neutral on the matter is King’s Hawaiian, a large bakery off Aloha Way at H.F. Reed.
“Exit 14 won’t have a significant impact on our business,” said John Linehan, executive vice president. “There is a convenience factor for our transportation carriers coming to and from our plant, but we won’t see a reduction in transportation costs from this.”
He also said that when the California-based company was scouting locations for its East Coast plant, it was aware of Exit 14 but it “was not a primary factor in our decision to come to Oakwood.”
“The amazing Northeast Georgia workforce, the incredible support from the governor’s office, the (Greater) Hall County Chamber (of Commerce) and many other local authorities were the primary drivers in our decision,” Linehan said.