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Developers trim 5 road projects off 2040 plan
Metropolitan planning group must cut $500 million from the list
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To make ends meet, Hall County road planners have trimmed five projects — including major widenings — from the county's proposed 2040 transportation plan and are sharpening their ax to cut more.

They discovered earlier this spring that estimated costs for projects they'd like to do, factoring in inflation, exceed projected revenues by some $500 million.

According to a document handed out at Tuesday's Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization's policy committee meeting, these projects are no longer on the list:

  • Widening Ridge Road from Queen City Parkway to Old Cornelia Highway
  • Widening Dawsonville Highway from Duckett Mill Road to the Hall-Dawson County line
  • Improvements to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Ga. 60/Queen City Parkway and E.E. Butler Parkway
  • Preliminary engineering for widening Interstate 985 to six lanes from the Hall County line to its ending point at Exit 24
  • Widening Ga. 365 to six lanes between Exit 24 and the Hall-Habersham County line, work that also would include building three diamond interchanges.

Planners still have $257 million in cuts to make, with Hall County officials hashing that out with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"We can take certain phases out. We can take construction out and still keep (preliminary engineering) and right-of-way (acquisition) in, so the project doesn't totally go away," said South Carolina-based consultant Jeff Carroll.

The amount of estimated revenue through 2040 from federal, state and local sources than can be used for road projects is estimated to be nearly $1.7 billion, Carroll said.

The projects are part of an overall transportation plan, one that includes transit and road maintenance, that must be approved by August.

Hall County is required by law to maintain a long-range transportation plan and update it every four years as it is part of a 20-county metro Atlanta nonattainment zone for air quality standards.

Two public hearings have taken place on the plan and a third one is set for 5:30 p.m. June 14 at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville. At that meeting, officials are expected to present a final list of projects, with projected costs matching revenue.

Projects that have been — or will be — removed from the 2040 list aren't totally dead, officials have said.

They still will be considered as funding becomes available, particularly if the state's planned 1 percent sales tax for transportation passes next year.

Eliminating projects is not a random process.

"We have studied each and every project," said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Planners have considered such factors as local support and whether the project has a logical stopping point. For example, in the Dawsonville Highway project, Dawson County doesn't have a plan to pick up the widening of the road on its side.

As for the I-985 and Ga. 365 projects, they were planned for 2031-40 and bear high costs — nearly $190 million on the Ga. 365 work alone.

"We have other projects that need to be in the radar," Yamala said. "Removing those two from the (financially) constrained list allows other projects located elsewhere in the county to stay on the list."

Also, widening of I-985 in Gwinnett County is not included in the Atlanta Regional Commission's 2040 transportation plan.

"That is something that we need to coordinate if we are ever going to widen (it)," Yamala said.