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Road planners will rely on study calling for $1 billion in road improvements
02142018 FREIGHT

A regional freight study suggesting $1 billion in road improvements over 25 years to keep up with the area’s growth was approved Tuesday by area road planners.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee — a group of top elected officials or their representatives — approved a resolution adopting the study.

The MPO is the Hall area’s lead transportation planning agency.

Many projects mentioned in the study are in progress, such as Lake Lanier bridge replacements and the new Martin Road interchange off Interstate 985, or have been long-embedded in already existing traffic plans.

Others are more ambitious.

For example, the freight report suggests widening Interstate 985 from four lanes to six from Interstate 85 to its end in Gainesville and even beyond, as Ga. 365, to Howard Road, where the new Lanier Technical College campus is being built.

One project was pulled from the list, at the request of Jackson County Board of Commissioners member Ralph Richardson Jr.

He asked to remove the widening of Ga. 53 from Interstate 85 to Tapp Wood Road in Hoschton.

“It’s going to be hard to do,” Richardson said. “You’re not going to be able to get the right of way because of the historical markers in Braselton and Hoschton.”

The study, which wrapped up in December after a year and was conducted by consultant CDM Smith Inc., had been considered for several years, given Hall’s growing logistics industry and thick network of busy highways.

“As the freight industry continues to grow in the … study area, improving freight mobility is crucial in the process of capturing the freight growth anticipated for the region,” CDM’s report states.

The report also suggests $13 million in Green Street “corridor improvements.”

Green Street has long been frustrating for motorists, and is heavily used by trucks. Gainesville is looking at plans to add roundabouts at either end of the historic road and a road network that would allow vehicles to bypass Green Street using state routes, starting with Oak Tree Drive/Ga. 60 Connector.

Several projects are in long range and carry huge price tags, including widening Winder Highway/Ga. 53 from I-85 in Jackson County to Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211 in South Hall — an estimated $106 million project.

Another long-range major project is the widening of Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369 from McEver Road in West Hall to Forsyth County.

“The freight study provides a wish list of projects, based on technical analysis, that will improve the region’s freight network,” Sam Baker, the MPO’s transportation planning manager, has said. “The study’s project recommendations are not limited by whether or not there is identified funding for them.”

The projects also will be considered as the MPO updates its long-range transportation plan in 2020.

The MPO “will explore funding and grant opportunities for the identified freight projects,” and “if or when funding is identified, projects may be added,” Baker said.

“This study’s project list will complement, but not replace, our current road plans,” he said.

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