Work could begin this summer on the first phase of the long-awaited Cleveland Bypass, a planned four-lane road expected to help with traffic congestion and spur economic development.
“We’re really excited about this project moving so fast now,” said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, and a former State Transportation Board member representing the area. “It’s been in the works for 20 years, I guess.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation is going through bids now, with the apparent low bid of $16.7 million submitted by Sunbelt Structures of Tucker. The contract could be awarded in May.
Some 80 residents saw plans for the new road at a DOT open house Tuesday night at White County High School.
“People were very excited about construction starting on this (phase),” said Teri Pope, DOT spokeswoman at the Gainesville office. “They also were very disappointed that it wasn’t on the entire bypass.”
Phase one will run from U.S. 129 at Hope Drive around the west side of Cleveland to Ga. 115, a 1.9-mile stretch.
Plans call for motorists to automatically go onto the bypass when traveling from south of Cleveland and having to make a right turn if they want to get on what is the present-day U.S. 129 leading to the downtown square.
The second, 2-mile phase would run from Ga. 115 to U.S. 129 at Hulsey Road. The third, 1.1-mile phase would connect to Ga. 75 “on the north side of town, headed closer to Helen,” Pope said.
Phase two is estimated to cost $21 million and phase three, $9.7 million.
“We do not have construction funds set up for either of those two phases,” Pope said.
The second phase is included in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region’s list of projects to be funded by the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax, which will go to voters in a July 31 referendum.
Gooch said he believes the first phase should go a long way toward helping ease traffic congestion, especially in the fall, when tourists are streaming through the area.
“The original budget (for the work) was around $25 million ... so there’s quite a bit of money there left over that we’re going to ask the DOT to push forward into phase two,” he said.
“It’s going to take the contractor 2 to 2« years to complete the project, so between now and the completion of phase one, I’d like to see us find the extra money to go ahead and finish phase two.”
Gooch said he believes Cleveland and White County should promote the new road as a commercial corridor.
“A lot of traffic is going to veer off around there, so I would expect to see some fast-food restaurants and maybe some retail centers to pop out there fairly quickly,” he said.
The DOT is accepting public comments on the final project design until May 8.
Plans and handouts regarding the project can be viewed at the Georgia DOT Area Office at 942 Albert Reid Road in Cleveland or at the Georgia DOT District Office at 2505 Athens Highway in Hall County.