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Flowery Branch mayor: Exit 14, school changes could help force DOT hand on Ga. 13 widening
Opposition to diamond interchange brought issue to light
Flowery Branch’s mayor hopes a revamp of the Martin Road at Atlanta Highway intersection will speed up state plans to widen Atlanta Highway, especially with Flowery Branch High School moving back to the area and adding a bunch more traffic.

Through a couple of road project changes, Flowery Branch’s mayor believes the state might focus on widening Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13 in the wake of a planned new interchange at Martin Road in South Hall.

By removing Martin Road’s widening from long-range plans and creating lanes that would force Exit 14 traffic to use Ga. 13, “we would put it on the state to four-lane Atlanta Highway,” Mike Miller said.

He said he believes school shuffling plans in the area “makes it more of an incentive” for the Georgia Department of Transportation to widen the busy road.

The Hall County School District plans to move Davis Middle School to its original building on Ga. 13, which is Falcon Parkway at that point, as the road also runs past the Atlanta Falcons headquarters.

Also, Flowery Branch High School would return to the current Davis Middle School site in neighboring property off Hog Mountain Road.

“In the next couple of years, that (shuffle) is going to create more of a traffic problem,” Miller said.

“I’m thinking if we put it on the state’s shoulders to fund Atlanta Highway widening, we’re in a much better situation of getting that accomplished than to get local funds to widen Martin Road, which is not what (local residents) want,” he said.

Darlene Long, leader of a residents group opposed to Martin Road being widened, as well as the new interchange, said she’s fine with the Atlanta Highway widening.

“I think that’s an answer to the problem,” she said Tuesday.

State officials “have all said why not keep (Exit 14) traffic on Atlanta Highway,” Long said.

DOT district spokeswoman Katie Strickland deferred to the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall County’s lead transportation planning agency, on the project.

“The prioritization of funding years for the (project’s phases) are first established by the MPO, as this project lies inside the (MPO’s) boundary,” she said.

The MPO’s long-range plan shows project phases for the widening ranging from 2024-37.

“Typically, the MPO would propose shifting projects around to accommodate accelerating another project, such as this,” Strickland said.

Atlanta Highway widening has surfaced as an issue because of residents’ opposition to the $27 million diamond interchange, which would connect Martin Road at Ga. 13 on the east side of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway on the west side.

The DOT has told county officials they expect the interchange project will go to bids later this year.

Residents, meanwhile, have said they don’t believe the interchange is needed, and they’re worried about the impact of traffic off Exit 14 flowing onto heavily residential Martin Road.

In a public meeting last week, Miller proposed building left and right-turn-only lanes at Martin Road and Ga. 13, so that traffic would not be able to go straight on Martin Road from Exit 14, or vice versa.

“This seems like the most workable solution to get the problem solved in the shortest amount of time,” he said.

Long said she’s “not sure about the intersection and the safety of (the turn lanes). I’m not a traffic engineer, but I can see obvious problems with it, as a citizen driving through it.”

One issue that has been raised is traffic to and from Hall County schools’ Martin Technology Academy, which is not far from the Martin/Ga. 13 intersection.

Srikanth Yamala, Hall planning director and MPO director, said that officials would review comments from the public meeting about Martin Road widening alternatives.

“Based on that, we will have one more meeting with (the Martin Road group), in March or April, and present, hopefully, an alternative that we can all reach consensus on,” Yamala said.

The preferred alternative or alternatives eventually would go to the MPO’s decision-making policy committee — a group of top area elected officials — for final approval.

“We are willing to review any alternatives the (MPO) presents and work cooperatively inside the boundaries placed on us,” Strickland said.