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Exit 14 project goes from uncertainty to likely 2017 start
Transportation tax system means money available for new interchange
Martin Road at Atlanta Highway in South Hall County will link to part of a new Interstate 985 interchange, which could start being built in 2017.

One of Hall County’s most anticipated road projects — a new Interstate 985 interchange between Flowery Branch and Oakwood — now appears to be on track for construction, perhaps as early as 2017.

“There wasn’t any money to build Exit 14, but now there is,” Georgia Department of Transportation district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

The South Hall County project was sped up largely because of a new transportation tax system passed this year by Georgia lawmakers that’s expected to generate $757 million more in fiscal 2015-16 in transportation funding and $820 million in fiscal 2016-17.

The $26 million Exit 14, as it has been called, had been bogged down largely because of uncertainty over federal highway funding. President Barack Obama signed a 5-year, $305 billion bill to address the nation's aging and congested transportation systems into law Dec. 4.

The project, which could be awarded to a contractor by June 30, 2017, calls for the interchange to link Martin Road at Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13 east of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway west of I-985.

H.F. Reed leads to a heavily industrial area, while Martin Road travels past homes and subdivisions to another major traffic artery, Winder Highway/Ga. 53, which leads to Interstate 85.

The new interchange is expected to relieve traffic at the Spout Springs Road and Ga. 53/Mundy Mill Road interchanges south and north of it.

That’s particularly key for Spout Springs motorists, as a planned widening along that heavily congested road is in early phases and could be years away.

The new tax system, approved by the General Assembly this year, primarily eliminated the state fuel sales tax at the gas pump and enacted a 26-cent excise tax.

Collections started July 1, with officials now drawing up lists of how the money could shore up road projects statewide — primarily bridges, new roads, intersection and safety improvements, and resurfacing and maintenance.

The new tax also will benefit other area projects, primarily by locking down the funding and construction schedules, officials noted during a Wednesday forum on the new law at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.

For example, a contract could be awarded by June for Hall County’s next big project, the widening of Athens Highway/U.S. 129 between Gillsville Highway/Ga. 323 in East Hall and the Pendergrass Bypass in Jackson County. The projected cost is $40.5 million.

Also planned is the widening of Lanier Islands Parkway/Ga. 347 from McEver Road to Lanier Islands resort in Buford.

The $7.8 million project, which features a roundabout at New Bethany Road, could be awarded to a contractor by June 30, 2017.

Pope said many of the projects being supported by the new transportation tax “were on the wish list and in long range, and they didn’t have funding or timetables attached to them.”

“This is a new day for the (DOT),” District Engineer Brent Cook said during the forum.

“For years and years, the dog’s been chasing the car for funding. Well, we’ve caught that car, and we’ve got to figure out what to do with it.”

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