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North Georgia's bottleneck isn't on state's radar
A truck heads west on Browns Bridge Road. Trucks have to use two-lane roads because there is no direct route across the northern portion of the state. - photo by Tom Reed

In the few months he has served on the state Board of Transportation, Steve Farrow has learned a few things about going from west to east across the 9th District.

It doesn’t happen fast.

Farrow, who lives in Dalton, often is called to meetings in the other side of the district, which stretches from the border with Tennessee and Alabama to White County. "It’s horrendous," Farrow said of the trek that normally takes him from Interstate 75 near Cartersville, along Ga. 20 through Canton and on Ga. 369 to Gainesville. "I’ve experienced it first-hand and there is just not a good route going east to west."

But talk of an east-west route is nothing new. Former Gov. Roy Barnes’ support of an outer perimeter highway was a factor in his 2002 loss to Sonny Perdue. One of Perdue’s earliest acts as governor was to kill plans for the highway to connect Interstates 75 and 85.

The most vocal opposition was in Forsyth County, where residents of the tony Polo Fields subdivision led the charge against the road. It would have passed within a mile of the subdivision that includes homes priced well in excess of $1 million.

Going farther north with an east-west connector would take the road through pristine mountain areas, unlikely to sit well with those who have built retreats in the region.

Tim Evans, vice president for economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said an east-west road would pay handsome dividends for Hall County. "It would be more than nice," Evans said, adding that east-west connectivity here is limited to the Ga. 369 and Ga. 20 route. "A lot of our industries rely on circumventing Atlanta and rely on that route. Those roads just weren’t designed to take as much traffic as is on them today."

At one time, the stretch of Ga. 20 between I-75 and Buford was considered for widening and straightening of some of the hairpin curves. Then came the outer perimeter and now both proposals have been shelved.

"There’s a lot of cargo that needs to go into the heartland of the Midwest, and I-75 is the route," he said. "There’s a lot of traffic coming from that region coming to us and there is not a good way to get here without going through the congestion of Atlanta."

Evans said having an east-west route could have given Hall County greater potential for landing a supplier for the planned Volkswagen assembly plant to be built in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Those operations (auto assembly) rely on just-in-time delivery of parts and components in what the industry calls sequencing of delivery, rather than keeping lots of inventory on hand," Evans said. "They have those parts arrive in time to go into production assembly."

He said if a company had to shut down a production line because a truck is stuck in traffic, a huge cost is incurred.

Both Evans and Farrow, like those who have advocated an east-west route for decades, are not holding their breath for a chance of greatly improving the sluggish connection anytime soon.

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