0830FRONTaudListen as Andrea Smith, assistant manager of The Columns at Oakwood, talks about how area road improvements have limited some access to the complex.
OAKWOOD — Once a vital connector with easily reached businesses and neighborhoods, Frontage Road in South Hall now sits in three pieces with some people struggling to give or get directions.
"We had a funeral here for a woman who was a teacher in North Forsyth," said the Rev. William "Bill" Combs, rector at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, which is just off Frontage. "And boy, getting folks over here ... was a bit of a challenge.
"We were on the phone quite a bit just talking them in."
Andrea Smith, assistant manager of The Columns at Oakwood, a neighboring apartment complex, said the navigation system in her car "doesn’t pick up the property."
The road used to run between Mundy Mill Road and Atlanta Highway, but then fell into construction cross hairs as the Georgia Department of Transportation began to rebuild Mundy Mill at Interstate 985.
The $75 million project features widening area roads; adding an interchange at Atlanta Highway and a new four-lane road, Thurmon Tanner Parkway; and building a new DOT Park & Ride lot at the new Exit 17.
All of it, in one way or another, seems to have affected Frontage Road.
The traffic light at Mundy Mill was removed and a median was added, permitting only right turns in or out. Frontage was realigned so that it directed motorists straight to a traffic circle at Gainesville State and Lanier Technical colleges.
Before reaching the colleges, the road now crosses Thurmon Tanner Parkway, which eventually will connect Atlanta Highway to Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch. The last link connecting Mundy Mill to Plainview Road in Oakwood is under construction.
Thurmon Tanner basically cut Frontage Road in half, with signs of the surgery still evident.
The DOT, in changing the direction of the road, left intact a fragment of road — also known as Frontage Road — that leads to a couple of neighborhoods.
The short stretch ends abruptly at a "road closed" barricade and a hillside that serves as one of Thurmon Tanner’s sloping sides.
And a short segment of Frontage Road still spills out on Atlanta Highway, allowing traffic to two businesses: a produce operation and a bakery/outlet store. It leads to Landrum Education Drive, where the church and apartments are located and which also takes travelers to the colleges.
Another source of frustration is that Frontage’s Atlanta Highway intersection has been rebuilt so that it eliminates left turns from Frontage to Atlanta Highway, where traffic then heads to Gainesville.
And as Tim Hayes, general manager at the car dealership, points out, the new Park & Ride lot obscures motorists’ view of the once highly visible produce business.
"Maybe I can help (the business) out down here on my lot," he said, noting that he already has a directional sign for St. Gabriel’s on his property.
"We’re just trying to bring attention to Oakwood and that there’s a lot of good things down here. It’s safe for people to come back here and not to have deal with the (DOT) barrels."
Combs and Smith said they don’t want to appear totally ungrateful about the road changes. The project did produce, after all, a quicker and easier way to reach I-985, via nearby Exit 17.
"It’s allowed a lot more residents and guests to ... go northbound," Smith said. "The only issue we have now is being able to access I-985 south. ... There’s a lot of back roads we have to take to get (there now)."
DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope said the southbound ramp from Exit 17 will open as the entire project, which began more than three years ago, draws to a close, possibly in early October.
Hayes, whose business also has been battered by the sluggish economy, is longing for that day.
"It about killed me these past couple of years," he said. "... Nobody wanted to come to Oakwood because of all the barrels."
Pope said she realizes that some road projects may cause confusion, especially for people who haven’t visited a once-familiar area in a long while.
"It is a learning curve. I try to remind people, especially (traveling) around the holidays, it’s likely things have changed if there’s been a road project," she said.
"Think about this Thanksgiving compared to last Thanksgiving, we didn’t have Exit 17 open at all — and Mundy Mill sure looks different than it did."