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DOT plans unique fix at busy Ga. 400/53 intersection
The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to revamp the busy Ga. 53/400 intersection in Dawson County with a “continuous flow intersection” that will be a first in Georgia.

A first-of-its-kind road project in Georgia might have area motorists feeling, at least briefly, like they are tooling along in a foreign country instead of semirural America.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is proposing a “continuous flow intersection” on Ga. 400 at Ga. 53, a particularly busy crossing at rush hour and during leaf-watching weekends in the fall.

In short, plans call for moving northbound traffic wanting to turn left at the intersection across lanes containing southbound traffic and into lanes heading west on Ga. 53.

The case is the same for southbound Ga. 400 traffic heading east on Ga. 53.

Traffic signals several hundred feet back from the intersection would control the operation, essentially taking left-turning vehicles out of the main traffic flow and, hopefully, avoiding backups that now nag the area.

“We’ll be more than doubling the capacity of Ga. 400 because north and south (traffic) will be running and these left-turners will be moving at the same time,” said Teri Pope, the DOT’s spokeswoman for Gainesville-based District 1, which includes Dawson County.

“And it’s going to give us much-improved safety because we’re separating the directions of traffic (by concrete medians),” she added.

The DOT looked at putting in the continuous flow intersection on Ga. 53 east and west, “but we really just have the backups on Ga. 400,” Pope said.

Average daily traffic on Ga. 400 just south of Ga. 53 is 28,840 vehicles; Ga. 400 north of Ga. 53, 25,260; Ga. 53 east of Ga. 400, 13,300; and Ga. 53 west of Ga. 400, 13,200.

The project doesn’t plan to ignore Ga. 53, however.

The DOT is proposing to add dual left-turn lanes longer than what is in place now, as well as dual through lanes and a right-turn lane, Pope said.

The Ga. 53/400 region has boomed for some time, featuring an array of shopping centers, restaurants and the North Georgia Premium Outlets.

Growth has brought traffic, particularly Atlanta residents en route to the North Georgia mountains.

The DOT recognized early on that improvements were needed at the congested intersection.

“We’ve looked at least at six different options,” including a full-blown interchange, Pope said. “The price tag was getting up to $120 million.”

The continuous flow intersection is estimated to cost $12 million to $14 million.

The DOT has scheduled buying right of way in fiscal 2011, which starts July 1. That process should take about nine months to complete.

“We do not have construction money identified yet, but that’s because we’re revising the cost amount to fit this (project),” Pope said. “Once it gets down to $12 million to $14 million, we’re expecting it will be a lot easier to find that smaller chunk of money and hopefully go to construction (next year).”

The DOT is considering another such intersection in Snellville.

“It is (proposed for) all four legs of the intersection,” Pope said of the project. “It is more expensive than this, so (the Dawson project) likely will be the first one built in the state.

Other areas of the country, including Baton Rouge, La., have them in place, she added.

The Dawson plans are being finished up now, with public hearings to take place in April.

Linda Williams, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, said she believes the project not only will ease congestion but could spur development away from the intersection.

The current plan certainly beats the interchange idea, she said.

“I think it’s going to (affect) the businesses in a more positive way because travelers will be at ground level and can see the businesses,” Williams said. “... I think it’s going to have a negative impact on very few businesses, if any.”

Heather Halpern, area manager at the outlets mall, was more reserved.

“We look forward to learning more about the DOT’s plans,” she said. “At this time, it is premature to make any comments until we review the details.”