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Friendship Road widening stirs acrimony among homeowners
Project to connect Lanier Islands, Braselton through South Hall has critics, admirers
Concrete from road construction remains along a newly widened section of Friendship Road/Ga. 347 in South Hall. Although construction is now complete, DOT district spokeswoman Katie Strickland said, “As with any construction project, there will be steps that will finish the project to completion ... and those final steps are taking shape now.” - photo by Erin O. Smith

Teresa Owens’ homemade sign bearing a simple message, “Don’t trust GDOT,” sums up how she and many of her neighbors feel about the newly widened Friendship Road/Ga. 347 in South Hall.

“I just think not many of us have a really good feeling about the road,” said Teresa Owens, whose sign is draped across a black wrought-iron gate facing the road.

All six lanes of the newly widened Friendship Road/Ga. 347 in South Hall opened to traffic July 1, creating one of Hall’s widest roads in connecting Interstate 985 to Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211, a nearly 8-mile stretch.

The $38.4 million project has been long anticipated by some, reviled by others.

For one thing, its construction meant tearing through the Friendship community, one of Hall’s oldest. Homes were removed and front lawns drastically shortened as part of construction.

“The road wasn’t designed for the residents,” Owens said.

“All through the negotiations (with the Georgia Department of Transportation), things we were told didn’t end up being that way,” she said. “In front of my house, we specifically asked where was the grade of the road going to be. We now have a 3-foot steeper driveway than we had before.”

During construction, Rhonda Roberts-Bayles’ property was flooded during heavy rains because of a grade change.

The DOT “finally decided in December that there was a problem,” she said. “It took me a whole year to get their attention.”

But work still needs to be done “to take the water off me,” Roberts-Bayles said.

Residents also say they believe that, while all six lanes aren’t filled with constant traffic, signal lights are still needed. Longtime Friendship resident Chris Puckett said speeding is a particular problem.

“As with any construction project, there will be steps that will finish the project to completion ... and those final steps are taking shape now,” said Katie Strickland, DOT district spokeswoman. “We will continue to do work until all the needed items are fixed (or) finished.”

She didn’t have specific tasks, but added: “(The public) sometimes assumes when we give a project end date ... it means we will vanish and all will be complete, but like any construction project, there are elements to be cleaned up and put away.”

However, one chore not on the radar is installation of new traffic lights, she said.

The road project is one of several phases of an overall effort to link Lanier Islands resort in Buford to Ga. 211 in Braselton, leading to Chateau Elan resort and Interstate 85.

The widening was supposed to wrap up in January but was delayed by wet weather during the winter. The completion had to be renegotiated with the contractor, E.R. Snell Contractor Inc. of Snellville, according to the DOT.

The DOT finished widening Ga. 347 between McEver Road and I-985 in late 2014.

Ga. 347 between Ga. 211 and Spout Springs Road opened in June 2015, or shortly after the 100-bed Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton opened its doors off Ga. 347.

Plans are in the works to widen the road between McEver Road and Lanier Islands — a project still in design. The DOT has completed 20 percent of right of way acquisition and could award the project to a contractor in the summer of 2017, Strickland has said.

“We’re in love with it,” said Mike Williams, CEO of Lanier Islands, of the newly widened stretch. “We’re in love with having a hospital at the other end that you can get to quickly. And I have some business in Braselton, so it speeds up my trip ... when I have to go there.”

Also, Williams said he believes the new road “is going to create a lot of economic opportunity for everybody who touches it, and even beyond.”

Jon Wayne, general manager of The Venue at Friendship Springs, a multipurpose event center opening off Ga. 347 on July 17, said he’s excited about the new road.

“It gives our area that much-anticipated east-west connection between I-985 and I-85,” he said. “It serves as the gateway into a clearly evolving South Hall/Braselton area that we are thrilled to be a part of.”

Other development is springing up on Ga. 347, particularly east of Spout Springs Road. A medical community is springing up near Ga. 211 and a proposed 158-unit senior living community just got the Hall County Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval last week.

DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, a Hall County resident who lives off Ga. 347, said motorists may think a six-lane road may be a bit much for the community.

“But the requirements are to do planning for at least 20 years of traffic,” he said. “With all the development in and around the hospital that’s beginning to blossom now, we anticipated that and coordinated with the hospital and (Hall) County, Braselton and all the stakeholders.

“This is one (project) in that I think we got right, by early planning and coordination,” McMurry said.

Puckett believes the future is what the project is all about  that today’s residents aren’t part of the equation.

“They have built a monster road here that’s going to be hard to live with,” he said. “But that’s their end game — to make everybody’s life miserable so they’ll leave.”

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