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Final 2040 roads plan has deep cuts over original
Public hearing is set for June 14; approval expected in August
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In coming up with a final document for public review, road planners have trimmed nearly $400 million from an initial $2.2 billion wish list for Hall County projects through 2040.

To make ends meet, officials have put off major projects, such as widenings of Interstate 985 and Ga. 365.

However, projects that have stirred public interest, such as the long-awaited Sardis Connector in northwest Hall and the widening of Spout Springs Road in South Hall, are in the plan featuring some $1.8 billion in new roads.

The plan adjusts for inflation through 2040 and takes into account federal, state and local revenues, including Hall County’s 1 percent special purpose local option tax. The current SPLOST, approved by voters in March 2009, will last for six years.

“It’s been very successful in the county, so the federal government does allow us to use that (as a funding source),” South Carolina-based consultant Jeff Carroll has said.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization has planned a public hearing on the draft 2040 plan, set for 5:30 p.m. June 14 at the Georgia Mountains Center.

It will be the final public hearing on the plan, which 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.

The projects are divided into three time periods, or tiers — 2012-17, 2018-30 and 2031-40.

The 2012-17 tier features $276 million in projects that have been deemed the closest to getting off the ground than any others in the county. It includes the widening of Ga. 347/Friendship Road from I-985 to Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway and the widening of Ga. 347/Lanier Islands Parkway from I-985 to McEver Road.

That tier also includes the construction of U.S. 129/Athens Highway from Ga. 323/Gillsville Highway to the Pendergrass Bypass in Jackson County.

New additions to the project list are bridges on Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road at the Chattahoochee River and Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway at the Chestatee River. The projects are estimated to cost a combined $22 million.

In the first tier, “you will see a lot of projects that have moved all over, and that has to do with (Georgia Department of Transportation input) after the first list was presented to the public,” said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“It includes any and all projects that are in DOT’s construction work program for the near term.”

Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s Gainesville office, said the bridges are of particular concern.

“Sadly, along with most of our transportation infrastructure, (they) are approaching their life expectancy and need to be replaced,” she said.

Projects that have been 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 in the summer of 2012.

Eliminating projects is not a random process.

“We have studied each and every project,” Yamala said.

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 widenings, they had been regarded as long-term projects anyway — originally in the 2031-40 tier — and were costly, officials have said.

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