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Dawsonville Highway gridlock, growth raise concerns
Several traffic fixes planned on key artery, but some not for a decade or longer
Local officials are seeking solutions to traffic congestion on fast-growing Ga. 53.

The uproar over a proposed 820-home retirement community in Gainesville remains focused on worries over the development’s impact on Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 traffic.

But the subject turned last week as to what can be done to fix the gridlock there now, long before the development’s buildout.

And resident Clyde Morris, speaking Tuesday to a group of transportation planners, was very direct about one of those fixes — widening the road to six lanes, a project that’s not slated to start until at least 2031.

“I will probably be dead (by then), but I would prefer not to die in traffic,” he said.

The comment drew laughs, but residents are quite serious about the matter.

They want traffic problems fixed before any more high-traffic developments are added to the road, with most of the headache centered around growing retail development between Ahaluna Drive and Shallowford Road.

“We are currently experiencing gridlock at rush hour, both in the morning and the afternoon, and we haven’t even gotten to the summer recreation season yet,” Morris said, noting Lake Lanier’s draw of some 7« million visitors each year.

Another resident spoke on the subject at Tuesday night’s Gainesville City Council meeting.

“These jams are frustrating, but they’re also costly, wasteful and they’re potentially very dangerous,” resident Pat Horgan said. “They’re affecting commuters, shoppers, merchants, tourists, community services, taxis, freight carriers, maintenance providers, emergency responders and people of all stripes. That’s a bad situation.”

Ethan Underwood, a lawyer representing Atlanta-based Oak Hall Companies, which plans to take its proposal in May to the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board, said development officials are very aware of the traffic situation.

“We feel that this development, with an age-restricted residents requirement, is actually going to have less impact on the traffic than what is currently zoned and requires no additional approval,” he said.

“We’re going to make any improvements recommended” by the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“There are going to be multiple exits and entrances that would serve this development,” Underwood added.

Several traffic improvements — short- and long-term — are planned for the road.

In an email circulated last week, the DOT said a Atlanta-based consulting firm, Arcadis, plans “to collect traffic data and construct a model of the corridor.

“We can assess potential improvements once the model is built,” states the email from SueAnne Decker, district traffic engineer. “(Oak Hall’s) development on Ahaluna is included as part of the model.”

The study should be completed this summer, DOT district spokeswoman Katie Strickland.

District Engineer Brent Cook talked at annual transportation forum Thursday about Arcadis’ efforts.

“The consultant was out there the last couple of weeks and has done a lot of traffic counts, so we have current data,” he said.

Generally, the city and DOT “have had several meetings to discuss the challenges of this corridor and we are currently evaluating additional projects to alleviate the traffic congestion,” Public Works Director Chris Rotalsky has said.

For its part, the city is working to expand a traffic monitoring system that allows employees “to observe, by live video, each intersection along this corridor and make immediate (signal) timing changes” as needed, Rotalsky said.

Basically, signal equipment can be managed in real time through video monitoring “during times of heavy traffic and emergencies to maximize traffic flow,” he said.

And the DOT is planning to extend the westbound left turn lane at Green Hill Circle in an $81,028 project set for completion by March 26.

Several improvements also recommended in Gainesville’s Transportation Master Plan, which was completed in 2013.

As Morris pointed out, the plan calls for widening Dawsonville Highway to six lanes between Shallowford Road and Sportsman Club Road. The project is slated to happen between 2031 and 2040.

Improvements are planned sooner at Dawsonville Highway’s intersection with McEver Road, including adding a westbound right-turn lane. That work slated to happen before 2020.

Also, according to the Master Plan, a new road connecting Dawsonville Highway to Thompson Bridge Road, which travels into North Hall, is planned.

The project, involving a bridge across Lake Lanier, would run about 1 mile south of Thompson Bridge to an undesignated location on Dawsonville Highway.

“This connection ... may also use segments of existing roadways,” the city’s plan states.

That project is slated to happen between 2021 and 2030.

Officials expect to update the Master Plan in 2023, but in the meantime, the priority of projects could be “adjusted based upon needs,” Rotalsky said.

Another road project, the long-proposed Sardis Road Connector, could help steer traffic away from the clogged area Ahaluna and McEver, as it would link Dawsonville Highway to Thompson Bridge Road at Mount Vernon Road.

But that fix may not happen for several years.

The connector, which officially has been on the books at least since 2004, is waiting on another major road project, Spout Springs Road widening in South Hall.

“We are still planning on purchasing right of way with funds that we are using for (Spout Springs), upon reimbursement from the Georgia Department of Transportation,” County Engineer Kevin McInturff has said.

“This places the beginning of right of way acquisition for the Sardis Road Connector out a minimum two years from now.”