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Bypass, Green Street improvements may get into gear this year
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Cars drive along Oak Tree Drive in Gainesville Thursday morning. The city is planning to widen the road. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Gainesville is trying to get the wheels moving in 2017 on a couple of long-discussed key road projects: Green Street improvements and an “inner bypass” that involves the widening of tiny Oak Tree Drive and a potential roundabout.

“Maybe we’ll start some construction at the end of 2017 or first of 2018,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said.

Both projects have long histories and address serious transportation needs for Gainesville, moving traffic simultaneously around and more smoothly through the center of town.

Dunagan said he sees the two projects “running together.”

“We don’t want one (project) to hamper the other one,” he said.

City officials were looking originally at a bypass between Enota Avenue and South Enota Drive, plans that drew immediate opposition from residents.

In April, they ditched those plans in favor of using existing state routes to connect Thompson Bridge Road to Limestone Parkway, Jesse Jewell Parkway and Interstate 985.

The project calls for widening and realigning Oak Tree Drive, which is between Thompson Bridge Road and Riverside Drive, and a traffic light at Oak Tree and Thompson Bridge Road.

One particular feature of the project is a roundabout at Oak Tree and Riverside drives. The city hopes to dive into engineering the project this year.

“We have the concept that was developed in the (city’s) transportation master plan,” Public Works Director Chris Rotalsky said.

“The next step will be taking the concept and fine-tuning it, actually putting some more pen to paper to see how it would work from an engineering and layout perspective.”

At the same time, Gainesville has been long trying to solve Green Street woes. The four-lane road, which runs through a historic district, serves as the major artery for downtown motorists wanting to travel to north Gainesville and beyond. The century-old road also has drainage issues.

A study was performed last year on what lies underneath the road and where utilities are located to determine what improvements could be made.

“I feel sure our plans will be to get the Oak Tree connection done first,” Dunagan said. “That will get some traffic off Green Street while we fix Green Street ... whatever happens to Green Street.”

Regardless, public input will be sought on the projects, the mayor said.

“We want citizens to be involved in every issue with the inner bypass — as I’m going to call it — and Green Street,” Dunagan said.

The issue of a Gainesville bypass has stretched back decades, stirring emotions along the way, especially as the Gainesville area has grown.

“The Oak Tree project is really not designed to be a ‘bypass,’” Rotalsky said. “It’s more designed to be an improving of roadways to handle more (traffic) volume. It does help volume-wise, but it doesn’t do all the things that you would want an actual bypass to do.”

Still, the project has drawn praise from city officials.

The new plans “make the best sense in the world,” Dunagan has said. “(The roadway is) flat. Basically, the trucks can handle it and there’s no residential impact, and it would be the least expensive one to do.”

Dunagan also has said Gainesville eventually is “going to need an outer bypass, but right now, this (connector) will cure some of the (traffic) problems.”

Residents also share that sentiment.

“They need to divert traffic before it gets this far into town,” said Paige Pethel, owner of The Bee’s Knees Boutique, which faces Oak Tree Drive. “The Thompson Bridge corridor to at least Enota is so busy, and it’s just going to get busier and more developed.”

One project that drew residents’ wrath was the “Northern Connector.”

Its announcement more than five years ago prompted the formation of a grass-roots group, Lake Lanier Community Preservation Association.

The proposal, which is still on the books with a $227 million price tag but regarded as a “preliminary aspiration,” calls for a road connecting Ga. 60 to Ga. 365, crossing Lake Lanier.

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