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From idea to road, process can be long and winding
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A new road or road improvement can start with a simple suggestion by local residents.

If the idea catches on with public officials, it may, with more public input, find itself on official documents. Eventually, money is thrown at it and the road gets built.

That’s a simple explanation for a complex process.

The governing body for such an effort varies in Georgia depending on the size and type of the local government.

The process for metropolitan areas, such as Gainesville-Hall County, is that “there is committee that not only comes up with new projects but also determines the projects’ priority,” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s District 1.

“As part of that process that’s updated every year, there are community meetings to solicit what the community believes are the priorities and how they would like to see the money spent.”

“And then every five years, they update a long-range horizon plan. That’s where new projects get added in, as (the group) tries to look and forecast way out in the future. Then they get pulled in closer as growth and funding occurs.”

The entity responsible for that work in Hall is the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization. The group has Policy, Technical Coordinating and Citizens Advisory committees.

“Anytime we get some information or feedback from the public or a particular jurisdiction, we take it to our three committees,” said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the organization.

As an example of the process, the Policy Committee voted in August to make widening a top priority for a 6.72-mile portion of U.S. 129 between interstates 985 and 85 if funding becomes available.

The planning organization also produces several planning documents, including the Long Range Transportation Plan and the Transportation Improvement Program.

An update on the long-range plan is under way, extending the outlook to 2040 from 2030. That process, which includes public hearings, is expected to wrap up in August.

“Any project that is anticipated any funding, even in the future, should make it to this plan,” Yamala said. “You can’t just grab a project out of thin air and expect it to be funded.”

For rural areas, such as Dawson County, the DOT “is kind of their planning office,” Pope said.

Planning documents are prepared in those areas as well.

“We go and have meetings with local officials every year and find out what their priorities are,” Pope said. “And, again, local officials, DOT staffers, legislators and citizens can share ideas for projects.”

The Transportation Improvement Program “has to be physically constrained,” she said. “It can’t be a wish list of everything. It’s got to be based on the estimate of how much money there will be for (a particular) area.”

That’s presented to the DOT and then gets signed by the governor and sent to the Federal Highway Administration.

“By state law, (the DOT) is the entity that accepts federal funds, federal gas tax money,” Pope said.

Because of that role, “we’re responsible for the accountability of (projects). We’re responsible for the planning, ultimately, and the expenditure of all money, whether it’s planning, (buying) right of way or construction.”