CLEVELAND — The second phase of a four-lane road expected to ease travel for both tourists and emergency responders in the North Georgia mountains opened Wednesday.
With early-morning temperatures rising and heat rising from the new asphalt, government officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the Appalachian Parkway just north of Ga. 115.
“Opening to traffic a few months early is a great accomplishment, as this phase is nearly 3 miles long and includes the construction of six bridges,” said Brent Cook, district engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The $25 million road, which runs between Ga. 115 just outside of Cleveland and U.S. 129 at Hulsey Road, has a scheduled completion in October. Workers still have some minor landscaping and striping work to do, DOT district spokeswoman Katie Strickland said.
It is part of an overall project — originally dubbed the Cleveland Bypass — that was conceived several decades ago.
The first phase of the four-lane road, completed in November 2015, runs between Ga. 115 and U.S. 129, ending just north of Hope Drive.
But it is the second phase of the project that provides a complete arc around downtown Cleveland.
Roads such as Ga. 115 and U.S. 129 provide quick access to downtown, but the parkway also will enable visitors to shoot past Cleveland to other tourist destinations, such as Blairsville and Dahlonega.
U.S. 129 motorists, such as those pouring north from Hall County, may still go through downtown if they’re headed to Helen.
But eastbound Ga. 115 motorists could take the new parkway and Hulsey Road to go toward the Alpine-themed tourist spot.
The DOT has plans for a third phase that would continue the parkway along Hulsey Road ending at Helen Highway/Ga. 75. That segment is in the works but hasn’t been funded.
“This project is truly regional in nature,” said Travis Turner, chairman of the White County Board of Commissioners.
He went on to explain that emergency responders from counties farther north have had to travel through downtown Cleveland on their way to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.
“Now, they have an alternative route, and I know they’re excited about that,” Turner said.
“The parkway provides an option to move goods and services (and encourage) home folks and tourists to spend more time in downtown Cleveland, as well as moving tourists efficiently to Helen,” he said.
Longtime residents Martha and Frank Senkbeil, who were among some 100 people attending the ribbon-cutting, said they were looking forward to driving on the new road.
“We live north of Cleveland, so this (parkway) will cut us off when we go to Gainesville,” Frank Senkbeil said.
“At certain times of day, (downtown) traffic is really terrible,” Martha Senkbeil said. “I’m sure it’s going to build up on (the parkway) too.”