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Hall cities focus on keeping traffic moving on local roads
Area cities are looking at road improvement needs as growth begins to return
A lone car travels down Thurmon Tanner Parkway Thursday. - photo by Tom Reed

Flowery Branch used to have zero dollars pledged to its roads program.

But that has changed, with a growing awareness that the city's roads needs are piling up and, as the economy rebounds, people and businesses will return.

The South Hall city has beefed up roads funding this year, by more than four times, and has completed a comprehensive study of downtown transportation.

Hall County's cities are addressing transportation issues of their own, not just considering the traffic that flies by main thoroughfares, such as Interstate 985.

One of Flowery Branch's main issues is that motorists have to dog-leg their way through narrow downtown streets to reach main thoroughfares, such as McEver Road and Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway.

A study completed earlier this year suggested a bevy of improvements, including extending Lights Ferry Road to Snelling Avenue and building a new road to connect Gainesville Street and McEver Road.

The main concern, though, is Spout Springs Road.

"You can just go over there on many days when school is in (session) and when churches are operating, and with Sterling on the Lake and Reunion (subdivisions), and you can see the effects of traffic," City Planner James Riker said. "Certainly, that's a road that needs improvement."

Spout Springs only travels a short distance in the city before it enters unincorporated Hall, but the stretch in the city is intensely thick with commercial development. Subdivisions dot the road until it enters Braselton and then businesses begin to crop up again.

Hall County, in a project funded by the special purpose local-option sales tax, has paid for some recent improvements to the road, including turn lanes and a traffic light at Elizabeth Lane.

But more work is needed, officials say, to keep up with the growth that is coming. There are plans to eventually widen then entire road to four lanes to Gwinnett County, projected to cost at least $47 million.

Flowery Branch has a consultant, Sabrina Cape, who will be analyzing the city's budget "and give us some recommendations on what we can and can't afford" in the way of road improvements, Riker said.

"That ought to be interesting," he added.

Flowery Branch's neighbor to the north, Oakwood, has reaped the benefits of Georgia Department of Transportation projects in recent years, including the widening of Winder Highway and the $75 million revamping of I-985 at Mundy Mill Road that included a new interchange at Atlanta Highway.

And though it won't meet a Dec. 31 deadline, construction on Thurmon Tanner Parkway between Mundy Mill and Plainview roads is under way.

"We have had some major improvements that have helped our traffic situation in the last couple of years," Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said. "... We're sitting in a much better situation than we've ever been."

"I think, for the future, we need to keep in mind (improvements to) Atlanta Highway and McEver Road. Those are challenges that need to be dealt with."

As far as the upkeep of local streets, Oakwood has an annual paving program that is paid for by special purpose local-option sales taxes.

"If you don't put the emphasis on taking care of what you have, at some point (the roads) are going to get to a point of deterioration where it becomes too costly without having to reconstruct the roads," Brown has said.

Lula, which hasn't seen near the growth that South Hall has, is still positioned to where it could be overwhelmed by an economic boom.

Two mega developments, Hagen Creek and Cane Creek, are planned in the area, both from the same Austrian family that has harvested timber on thousands of acres in the area since 1979.

Lula sits next to busy Ga. 365 and straddles a stretch of Ga. 52, which leads to some 21,000 acres of undeveloped land across North Hall. And the city is wrapping up construction on its new wastewater treatment plant, which likely will be up and running by January.

All that change will mean more cars on local roads.

"We just see that as paramount for putting things in place now that will allow us to make traffic improvements in the future," City Manager Dennis Bergin said.

Long-range plans call for widening Ga. 365 and limited access for cars entering and leaving the roadway.

"We would also like to build parallel roads very similar to what we did in South Hall with Thurmon Tanner," Bergin said.