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Elected leaders want to talk more before setting road project priorities
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Top 10 projects

Here’s the latest draft list of top road projects proposed in Gainesville-Hall County’s 2040 transportation plan:
1. Widening Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road from Ga. 136 to Yellow Creek Road
2. Widening Spout Springs Road from Hog Mountain Road to the Gwinnett County line
3. Improvements at Jesse Jewell and John Morrow parkways
4. Improvements at E.E. Butler Parkway, Athens Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
5. Widening U.S. 129/Athens Highway from Gillsville Highway to the Pendergrass Bypass
6. Widening Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway from Ga. 53/Winder Highway to Ga. 347
7. Widening Martin Road from Falcon Parkway to Winder Highway
8. Realignment of Lights Ferry Road with roundabout at Lights Ferry and Gainesville Street
9. New Exit 14 on Interstate 985
10. New bridge on Ga. 11 at East Fork Little River

A group of top elected leaders balked Wednesday at approving a draft list of prioritized road projects through 2040, saying they needed first to discuss each project individually in a work session.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he believed some projects now listed should be shuffled based on need. He cited the widening of Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road through Murrayville in particular. That project is currently ranked as the No. 1 priority.

“I’m no traffic engineer, but common sense tells me (that project) is a waste of money at this time,” he said. “It’s not busy, it’s not crowded. There are other roads in this county that need addressing (sooner).”

Dunagan and the rest of the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s decision-making policy committee voted to put off approval until after the work session, which was tentatively set for 11 a.m. Wednesday Nov. 19.

The project list, as well as a “tiered” list showing projects divided into time frames between 2015 and 2040, must be included as part of the MPO’s federally required long-range transportation plan.

The MPO, which serves as the Hall area’s lead transportation planning agency, must complete the plan by August.

Officials have time constraints with the long-range plan.

The project lists “cannot be changed pretty much after February,” MPO director Srikanth Yamala told the committee.

After getting local approval, the documents would go to the Georgia Department of Transportation for its consideration.

“There’s time to get all of this right,” said Matthew Fowler, a DOT assistant planning administrator and the agency’s representative on the policy committee.

One of the issues officials are wrestling with is limited money.

The Hall County area is expected to receive about $1.4 billion for road projects through 2040 from local, state and federal sources. That represents $800 million less than what was projected in the current 2040 plan, which was completed in August 2011.

There are some $2.42 billion in projects that have been left off the “financially constrained” plan and otherwise dubbed as “aspirations.”

Among those are the Northern Connector, projected to cost $227 million; widening Interstate 985 from the Gwinnett County line to Exit 24, estimated at $514 million; and widening Ga. 365 and adding three diamond interchanges from Exit 24 to the Habersham County line, $213 million.

Officials talked Wednesday about the need — because of traffic volume and safety — to widen particularly Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road from McEver Road to the Forsyth County line at Lake Lanier.

Fowler said that project has lost standing because of Ga. 369’s route through Forsyth County, which falls in another MPO, the Atlanta Regional Commission.

“When we widen a road, we have to have logical termini,” he said. “We just can’t stop it arbitrarily. The logical (stopping point) 40 years ago might have been the bridge at the lake, but nowadays, it has to go farther than that ... at least to Ga. 400.”

And the Ga. 369 project was removed from ARC’s plan a few years ago, he said.

“That’s something we didn’t know,” Dunagan said of Fowler’s information.

“And that would be the value of the work session,” Fowler said. “There’s probably a story with each of these projects.”

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