Hall County's freight needs carry a heavy load of road work
Report shows $1.25B in highway improvements needed over next 24 years
Construction barrels line Interstate 985 in Gainesville, on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. - photo by Asha Gill
Hall County freight study

A long-awaited freight study has wrapped up with recommendations that affect more than 18-wheelers and chicken trucks moving through Hall County.

Everyday motorists also should be affected as the report suggests $1.25 billion in road improvements over the next 24 years to help keep pace with Hall’s growing logistics industry.

Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization

What: The Gainesville-Hall Regional Freight Study Report will be presented.

When: 10:30 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Many projects are in progress, such as Lake Lanier bridge replacements and the new Martin Road interchange off Interstate 985, or have been long-embedded in already existing traffic plans.

Others are more ambitious, including widening Interstate 985 to six lanes up to Howard Road. The Georgia Department of Transportation has looked at widening I-985 from Interstate 85 to Mundy Mill Road/Ga. 53 in Oakwood.

The freight report suggests widening I-985 from four lanes to six from I-85 to its end in Gainesville and even beyond, as Ga. 365, to Howard Road, where the new Lanier Technical College campus is being built.

The report, which will be presented at a Tuesday committee meeting of the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Hall area’s lead transportation planning agency, also suggests $13 million in Green Street “corridor improvements.”

Green Street has long been frustrating for motorists, and is heavily used by trucks. Gainesville is looking at plans to add roundabouts at either end of the historic road and a road network that would allow vehicles to bypass Green Street using state routes, starting with Oak Tree Drive/Ga. 60 Connector.

Several projects are in long range and carry huge price tags, including widening Winder Highway/Ga. 53 from I-85 in Jackson County to Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211 in South Hall — an estimated $106 million project.

Another long-range major project is the widening of Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369 from McEver Road in West Hall to Forsyth County.

“The freight study provides a wish list of projects, based on technical analysis, that will improve the region’s freight network,” said Sam Baker, the MPO’s transportation planning manager. “The study’s project recommendations are not limited by whether or not there is identified funding for them.”

Baker added: “This study’s project list will complement, but not replace, our current road plans.”

The MPO “will explore funding and grant opportunities for the identified freight projects,” and “if or when funding is identified, projects may be added” to road plans, he added.

“The study, in addition, recommends certain locations and corridors be studied more in detail,” Baker said. “We will take these recommendations into consideration in allocating our future transportation planning funds for additional transportation studies.”

A regional freight study had been considered for several years, given Hall’s growing logistics industry and thick network of busy highways. Widening Athens Highway/U.S. 129 in East Hall — underway now — has long been considered a key project for commercial truck traffic.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners gave its approval last year to the study.

“This will help free up roads,” Hall Commissioner Jeff Stowe said, “and find the best routes for trucks to take.”

The study’s purpose was to assess current infrastructure and capacity for commercial trucking in Hall and Jackson counties and identify specific freight projects and/or corridors.

It hasn’t gone without a hitch, however.

The new Martin Road interchange, or Exit 14, drew a lot of opposition from area residents, especially as widening Martin Road from Atlanta Highway to Winder Highway was also in the plans. Eventually, the road widening plan was pulled, but it’s full speed ahead on the interchange.

Trees are being removed and land cleared for the $34 million diamond interchange connecting Martin Road at Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 on the east side of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway on the west side. The project is set to be completed by fall 2019.

In August, the county commission approved a $30,000 study by Wilburn Engineering of ways to slow traffic along the road, including stop signs or speed tables. A long-term plan could involve a roundabout at the intersection of Martin Road and JM Turk Road.

The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce also has weighed in on the freight study, said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development.

“The movement of freight is the lifeblood of our economy and our business community,” he said. “Freight flows change over time and with technology, so it’s important to periodically reassess our competitiveness and to prioritize areas for improvement.”

Evans said “the volume of inbound and outbound traffic between Hall County and metro Atlanta comes as no surprise.”

Significant freight volumes headed toward the Midwest “remind us of the need for east-west route improvements between Hall County and Interstate 75 on the north side of Metro Atlanta.”

Freight traffic is a daily concern for Jim Syfan of Syfan Logistics, and he too is frustrated by the lack of an east-west route in Hall County.

However, “it isn’t all gloom and doom,” he said. “They’re working on (the issue overall) and I appreciate it. We appreciate everything they get done.”

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