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Gainesville bypass debate isnt new, or over
Ideas to reroute city's traffic date way before latest Enota tussle
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For longtime residents, the now-derailed Enota Bypass was simply another chapter — and maybe sore spot — in a long-standing issue of how to steer traffic around Gainesville.

Just the topic’s mention likely gets neck veins bulging or blood pressure rising in some residents.

And it’s not just talk of an “inner loop,” or a bypass using existing city roads, but an “outer bypass” that moves traffic completely around Gainesville using roads in Hall County.

Putting heat on the issue is Hall and Gainesville’s growth, which is resurging in post-recession years.

“This talk of east-west connectivity is only going to get more challenging,” said Srikanth Yamala, planning director for Hall County’s lead transportation planning agency, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“As a community, we really need to (talk) as to how we’re going to solve this problem. It could be an urban bypass or outer bypass, or a combination of both.”

The issue goes back decades, with officials at one point looking to extend Pearl Nix Parkway north, but that got major pushback from residents.

“That would have really impacted that area,” said Bob Hamrick, who served on the Gainesville City Council for 46 years before stepping down at the end of 2015.

The city later extended Pearl Nix west from Jesse Jewell Parkway/Ga. 369 to Queen City Parkway/Ga. 60.

One project that particularly incited residents was the “Northern Connector.” Its announcement more than five years ago prompted the formation of a grass-roots group, Lake Lanier Community Preservation Association.

The proposal, which is still on the books with a $227 million price tag, although listed as “preliminary aspirations,” calls for a road connecting Ga. 60 to Ga. 365, crossing Lake Lanier.

The citizens group later faded, but Debbie Lawson Davis, who served as the group’s spokeswoman, still has firm opinions on the issue.

In an email last week, she hit upon another thorny topic that sits at the heart of the whole bypass issue: traffic on Green Street, a historic and historically congested road that serves as a main connection between downtown Gainesville and North Hall.

“I still think the solution to reducing traffic (on) Green Street is to divert Ga. 60 south traffic over to U.S. 129,” Davis said.

She believes the shortest distance between Ga. 60 and U.S. 129 could involve a potential bypass starting at Dunlap Landing Road, or at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, and using Thompson Mill Road.

The project also would involve a bridge across Little River, which flows into Lake Lanier.

“If you wait to divert traffic until you’re already basically in the city, like (at) Enota, I think you’re not going to be successful in making much of a difference.”

A bypass issue was raised again in 2013, as area road planners began work on updating Hall’s long-range transportation plan.

Raising eyebrows was a proposed roadway connecting Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 to Ga. 60 in an area closer to Gainesville than the planned Sardis Connector, which starts in West Hall and uses northwest Hall roads to lead to Ga. 60 at Mount Vernon Road.

The connection was off Ahaluna Drive, near an emerging Gainesville commercial center, including what is now the North Lake Square shopping center.

But planners even acknowledged the project’s challenges.

“This would take a whole study because you’re crossing (Lake Lanier),” said Richard Fangmann, transportation planning director for the consulting firm on the study, Pond & Co.

The latest bypass proposal, introduced by Gainesville officials in late 2015, involved Enota Avenue and South Enota Drive.

From the time Gainesville mentioned it, the Enota project drew opposition from area residents.

City officials are now looking at using existing state routes to connect Thompson Bridge Road to Limestone Parkway, Jesse Jewell and Interstate 985.

The project would call for widening and realigning Oak Tree Drive, which is between Thompson Bridge Road and Riverside Drive, and a traffic light at its intersection with Thompson Bridge Road.

Overall, the new plans “make the best sense in the world,” Mayor Danny Dunagan has said. “(The roadway is) flat. Basically, the trucks can handle it and there’s no residential impact, and it would be the least expensive one to do.”

One particular feature of the project is a possible roundabout at Oak Tree Drive — which would otherwise be known as Ga. 60 Connector — and Riverside Drive.

That would be a key focus of a road study, Dunagan said.

“We don’t know if that would work with the truck traffic,” he said. “We’ll do the study and then we’ll know … if the roundabout is the best way or not.”

The mayor also acknowledged that resident opposition helped shift the plans.

“That played into it,” Dunagan said.

Hamrick, for one, was concerned about the Enota route.

“You would be disturbing an established residential neighborhood,” he said. “I’m delighted they made a decision to change that.”

Hamrick went on to say he believes Limestone Parkway, which opened a couple of decades ago, has been underused, particularly by motorists traveling south on Cleveland Highway/U.S. 129 and headed to Jesse Jewell and Ga. 365/Interstate 985.

“The way the configuration is at the (Limestone-U.S. 129 intersection), it looks more conducive to come down Cleveland Highway,” he said.

Riverside Drive resident Anne Chenault, one of the Enota bypass’ frequent critics, was more than happy to hear the Enota project had been dropped.

But she wasn’t completely satisfied, as she appeared last week before an MPO technical committee to express other views. She believes the Sardis Connector needs to keep moving west, across Ga. 60, toward a connection with Cleveland Highway, where a project is proposed to widen U.S. 129 from Nopone Road to Limestone.

“We need to identify and acquire land for an east-west connector across North Hall,” Chenault said.

Whatever happens, Davis said, the impact of a bypass project on neighborhoods seems unavoidable “because our city fathers did not take care of this issue decades ago,” she said.

“I remember it coming up in the 1970s when I was just learning to drive,” she added.

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