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'Average Joe' has voice in area transportation group
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Citizens Advisory Committee

When: 4 p.m. Thursday

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

More info: 770-297-2625 or ghmpo.org

Government planners and engineers aren’t the only ones putting road projects under a microscope.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Hall County area’s lead transportation agency, has a 19-member group, the Citizens Advisory Committee, that meets at least quarterly to talk about pressing issues.

And in an era when transportation issues are at the forefront, especially with demand outstripping funding, such a group with grass-roots ties is positioned to have its voice heard — perhaps more than ever.

“I think we’re listened to,” said Brent Hoffman, a real estate agent and vice chairman of the group. “The minutes are taken, our (comments) are reported, and our votes are looked at, I assume, by the .. folks who take the final vote.”

The group can and does make recommendations, along with a technical committee that’s made up of government engineers and planners, to the MPO’s decision-making Policy Committee, which comprises top elected officials.
Its main function is to give a fresh perspective to transportation matters, said Sam I. Baker, the MPO’s senior transportation planner.

“What does an average person think about what’s going on in the area and in their neighborhood when it comes to roads and bridges?” he said. “Oftentimes, (government officials) forget that when we just deal with the data or what is or is not popular with the elected officials.

“It’s helpful sometimes to just talk to the average Joe and ask, ‘This is what we’re planning to do. What do you think?’”

And the committee frequently parts from officials on issues.

“The votes or the ideas are often different than (final votes),” Hoffman said. “Sometimes, the citizens just have a different idea of where a road project should be or where the money should go.

“And that’s fine. We don’t have the technical vote. We can just pass along our recommendations.”

The MPO was created after the 2000 census, stemming from a requirement in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1962 for urban areas with more than 50,000 people. The organization kicked off in January 2004, and part of that effort was to set up a committee structure.

Having the citizens group “was recommended but not required,” Baker said. “It is good practice. We thought from the very beginning to involve (area residents).”

Meetings are open to the public, with the next one set for 4 p.m. Thursday at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville, and there’s time for public comment.

But not just anyone can join the group. Members are appointed by governments, including the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

Members serve staggered terms of 2-3 years and without term limits, according to bylaws set up for the group.

Clermont Mayor James Nix, the one government official serving on the committee and as a North Hall representative, said the committee did make some noise a while back over the need to improve U.S. 129/Athens Highway in East Hall.

“Someone made a comment that (road) needed to be a priority project, so there are things like that that do get brought up,” he said.

The U.S. 129 widening from Ga. 323/Gillsville Highway to Jackson County is likely Hall County’s next big road project, following the completion of Ga. 347 in South Hall.

Occasionally, others in the public attend committee meetings and share stances on certain matters.

Hoffman recalled a particular time when residents rallied against the Northern Connector, a proposed road that would link Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road to Ga. 365.

“We have a time in those meetings where people can speak into the minutes and share their ideas,” he said.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan, a Policy Committee member, said he, for one, doesn’t dismiss recommendations and concerns from the citizens group.

“They can play a vital role in decision making,” he said. “They spend a lot of time and work hard, and their thoughts and suggestions are taken very seriously.”

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