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Contract awarded for Cleveland Bypass
First phase will cost $16.8 million
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With environmental issues now ironed out, the Georgia Department of Transportation is ready to proceed on building the first phase of the highly anticipated Cleveland Bypass.

The DOT announced this morning that a contract for the White County project was awarded to Sunbelt Structures Inc. of Tucker.

The $16.8 million project involves the construction of a four-lane road from U.S. 129 at Hope Drive to Ga. 115, a nearly two-mile stretch.

Construction likely will begin late this summer, according to a news release from Teri Pope, Hall County-based DOT spokeswoman.

The contract stipulates a completion date of Dec. 31, 2014.

The project is expected to ease huge traffic backups along U.S. 129 leading to downtown Cleveland, especially during rush hour but also during busy tourist times, such as fall leaf watching.

In May, the DOT had deferred awarding the project because of last-minute environmental concerns.

Two outstanding items involved securing a "stream buffer variance," Pope said at the time.

The DOT had to go through a second round of review with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, a normal course of action, "especially in an area as sensitive and complicated as the foothills in White County," she added.

A second phase of the project calls for the road to run from Ga. 115 to U.S. 129 at Hulsey Road, or about two miles. 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 proposed transportation sales tax, up for a statewide vote July 31, would set aside $11 million for phase two.