0825WIDENaudListen to Rabun County Administrator Jim Bleckley talk about plans to widen U.S. 441.
A busy North Georgia road frequented by tourists shopping for antiques or stopping for glimpses of mountain scenery could get a major makeover.
The Georgia Department of Transportation proposes to widen U.S. 441 from north of Clayton to the North Carolina line, a 7«-mile, two-lane stretch that carries motorists through the popular Rabun County towns of Dillard and Mountain City.
"This project will improve the traffic flow through the area by creating additional lanes for vehicles and adding bike lanes," said Russell McMurry, engineer at the DOT’s Gainesville-based district.
The project, estimated to cost nearly $112 million, calls for widening the road to four lanes, adding sidewalks on each side of the roadway in Dillard and Mountain City, widening a bridge over Little Tennessee River and building a new bridge over Betty Creek.
Also, the road will feature a 20-foot-wide raised concrete median separating the directions of traffic except in Dillard, where the median will narrow to 6 feet wide.
The speed limit along the road would be 45 mph, which concerns John Dillard, owner of The Dillard House.
"I believe it will result in more accidents," he said.
Otherwise, "I think that there are large sections of the road that this will be an improvement," Dillard said. "I’m not negative about the project in general."
The project should improve safety at Black Rock Mountain State Park, he said.
"There’s not really a turn lane (there) and people get jammed up. It’s probably the biggest death trap in the state, and that should be corrected (through the project)," Dillard said.
Some 250 people attended a DOT information meeting last week on the project at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, said Teri Pope, district spokeswoman.
The common sentiment was "When can you start building?" Pope said.
People "liked (the planned) sidewalks and bike paths, additions since the last version of the widening plan," she added.
The project requires buying 188 parcels, 44 involving relocations of homes and businesses.
Smith Collision Repair, just south of Mountain City, would be torn down to make way for the road, said Shirley Kimsey, a secretary at the business.
However, "we need (the road) wider," she said. "We need to move the traffic through because on Sunday evenings you can’t get on the road going south because the traffic is backed up two or three miles."
Right-of-way requirements for the proposed project would vary from 86 feet to 450 feet.
Right-of-way acquisition is estimated to cost $62 million and construction is expected to run about $50 million, but no money has been earmarked for either initiative.
"Once the best buildable route is selected based on input from this meeting, following federal environmental laws and sound engineering standards, we will come back to the community for (another) public hearing ... to share that route," Pope said.
Rabun County Administrator Jim Bleckley said he believes the new road is needed to increase safety "and help move traffic through the county much quicker."
"There is probably some concern by some of the people in the cities who fear (the new road) might make it more difficult for (motorists) to get off the road and into their businesses," he said.
"That’s probably a legitimate concern, but the DOT has been working and talking with these various property owners ... for quite some time ... to address some of their major concerns, which I think they have."