Big plans, no dollars may be one way to describe the new City of Gainesville Transportation Master Plan, recently completed after a yearlong study.
But at least the city has a plan, something it lacked when the mayor’s job rotated to Gainesville City Councilman Danny Dunagan nearly two years ago.
Dunagan, who had felt stung by Gainesville’s lack of projects in the transportation sales tax referendum that failed in July 2012, made it his aim to beef up transportation plans in the city.
“I really feel good about (the plan’s completion),” said Dunagan, now the city’s first elected mayor, expected to start his four-year term Jan. 1. “Now, we’ve got to look at that plan. My goal after the first of the year is to look at the short-term and easy fixes and start implementing those as fast we can. And then we can start looking ahead at the (projects) that are going to be expensive, and there are many that are going to be controversial.”
Gainesville had just one project out of the nine proposed as part of the transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, vote.
The master plan features 56 road improvements, from intersection improvements to major widening efforts, as well as 42 pedestrian and bicycle projects.
All are spread over three time frames: 2013-20, 2021-30 and 2031-40.
The plan began about a year ago, as Norcross firm Pond & Co. was hired for $125,000, with Gainesville bearing $25,000 of the cost and the Federal Highway Administration paying $100,000.
In March, the City Council appointed 10 residents to a transportation focus group that was charged with giving feedback to the study. In addition, officials held community meetings in May, June and August.
Along the way, public discussion began to heat up about particular parts of the developing plan, particularly Green Street, a four-lane road that basically ties the downtown area to north Gainesville and, eventually, North Hall. The road is tightly hugged by a historic district.
Also, residents voiced concerns about an in-town connector between Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway and Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road, requiring a bridge that would cross Lake Lanier.
Last month, the completed plan was posted on the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s website, ghmpo.org, where users can click on “City of Gainesville TMP.”
The report features an executive summary, which gives an overview of recommended roadway and bicycle/pedestrian projects in three time frames and provides maps of the projects. Plus, there are other detailed documents.
The majority of projects in 2013-20 are less expensive, focusing primarily on intersection improvements, including the addition of turn lanes and changes to traffic signal operations.
A number of the 2021-30 projects focus on additional roadway capacity or new roadways in key areas with congestion.
“Some of these projects will require more detailed planning and approval from outside agencies before they can move forward,” the report states.
Projects in 2031-40 “are planned for a longer time frame because they have significant impacts, need review and approval from outside agencies and/or are expensive,” according to the report. “Some projects are intended to address future transportation needs in areas where traffic congestion may not currently be a significant problem.”
Dunagan said he hasn’t had a chance to comb through the final plan.
“I was going to take the holidays and review it,” he said.
The mayor-elect expects to move quickly.
“We’ve got to do something. We can’t keep sitting back and not do anything,” he said. “The growth is coming — you see it every day — and we’ve got to start planning for it.”
Pond’s report quotes the Gainesville 2030 Comprehensive Plan’s Community Assessment in saying, “Gainesville is maturing from a mid-Twentieth Century regional industrial center into a modern multifaceted metropolitan community center.”
Thick traffic moves through Gainesville every day, snarls developing especially at rush hour and lunchtime. The city has become a hub for employment, regional shopping and health care.
Dunagan said he fears congestion could work against continued growth.
“With businesses looking to locate to Gainesville and Hall County, it’s a quality of life issue,” he said. “If you’ve got so much congestion and can’t get around, that’s not the quality of life they’re looking at.”
Gainesville resident Emory Turner, who served on the focus group, said his major concerns are the lack of funding for the projects and people’s willingness — or lack thereof — to commit dollars.
“People don’t care for more government and more taxes,” he said. “We must have a (transportation) plan, but part of that plan is a plan to fund it. Can we solve the problems with no money? It’s not easy to do that.”
Gainesville has applied for a State Road and Tollway Authority grant for improvement projects on Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road/Jesse Jewell Parkway.
The $885,000 grant would pay for extending the eastbound right-turn lane at E.E. Butler Parkway, building a westbound right-turn lane at West End Avenue and building an eastbound right-turn lane at Auburn Avenue.
The grant doesn’t require a match from the city. However, as it may give the city an edge against other applicants, the city plans to contribute $208,000, which would come from unspent money in the fiscal 2012 street resurfacing program.
The projects’ total cost would be $1.1 million.
SRTA, a state-created authority that operates toll roads, including high occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 85 in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, announced Sept. 3 it was accepting applications from local governments and community improvement districts for the funding through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
Some $16 million in grants and $9.3 million in loans will be available.
Gainesville had considered pursuing funding for “one big project” in the master plan, “but we wanted to spread the available funds around to a few smaller projects so as to have a larger improvement and benefit to the community,” said Dee Taylor, the city’s traffic engineer.
The city’s plan will next be considered for inclusion in the Gainesville-Hall MPO’s planned study of area transportation projects. The MPO serves as the lead transportation planning agency for the area.
The agency’s 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan is slated for an update, a process set to begin next year and be completed by August 2015.
“I think Gainesville should be applauded for taking a holistic look at their transportation needs,” said Srikanth Yamala, MPO director and Hall’s planning director. “It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds into the overall 2040 plan, where we have to come up with a project list that should be financially constrained.”
“Federal planning statutes require that the (long-range) financial plan must be financially constrained, which means the estimated cost for all transportation improvements (in the plan) cannot exceed the amount of reasonably expected revenues projected from identified federal, state and local funding sources,” states the 2040 plan.
“That’s when we need to take a much closer look at all these recommendations from the Gainesville transportation plan and look at the other jurisdictions and the county as a whole,” Yamala said.