In other business Tuesday, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy committee:
• Approved amending its transportation plan to allow for a Georgia Department of Transportation project to replace the Elachee Drive bridge over Interstate 985
• Rejected pursuing $75,000 in federal money for a study to determine the need for a bike rental program, saying Hall’s fledgling bike trail system needs to develop first.
• Expressed concerns about a federal proposal to merge the MPO with the Atlanta Regional Commission. Concerns were that Hall area transportation projects might get lower priority with such a move.
The debate swirling around the planned Exit 14 off Interstate 985 in South Hall shifted Tuesday from Martin Road to neighboring JM Turk Road.
“My recommendation would be we … figure out a way to end Martin Road (at JM Turk) and make the exit come out and go down past the (Mulberry Creek) community center and cut up to (Ga. 53) that way,” Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller said.
“That would keep the traffic off Martin Road.”
Speaking of a potential JM Turk widening, “it’s just woods out there,” Miller said. “I think that would be an easier route to direct that traffic, and it seems like it would be a more logical way to do that.”
Martin Road is heavily residential, while JM Turk has large open tracts. The road dead-ends into Cash Road.
Miller made the comments during an exchange with Brad Farrow, a lead opponent of the $27 million project, during a Tuesday morning meeting of the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy committee, a group of top area elected officials that serves as the MPO’s decision-making arm.
Farrow said the JM Turk project would cost millions and “would be the result of (building) Exit 14. No matter what you do … does not justify the money we’re spending on Exit 14.”
The project calls for a diamond interchange connecting Martin Road on the east side of I-985 to H.F. Industrial Parkway on the west side.
“It exits onto a two-lane country road, which has upscale housing developments, and it’s just not right to exit off an interstate … into our community,” Farrow said.
He also said long-term plans to widen Martin Road from Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 to Winder Highway/Ga. 53 — taking place after Exit 14 is open — “is unacceptable.”
The project has gained support from many government and business leaders, especially as the new interchange would touch Thurmon Tanner Parkway, an industrial north-south corridor that runs parallel to I-985.
“I have actually spoken with several hundred citizens who actually want that interchange there, so your characterization that it is not needed or wanted by citizens of Hall County … is not correct,” Miller said to Farrow.
“It’s a needed project from an industrial, commercial/retail perspective to get that traffic from the Thurmon Tanner corridor over to (Interstate) 85,” Miller said.
Sam Baker, transportation planning manager for the MPO, has said the DOT has set a Dec. 31, 2017, deadline, but the work could be finished by June 30.
“I know they’re talking about committees that would look at other options, but common sense tells you there are no other options,” Farrow said.
“I think there are options,” said Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman. “I think (Falcon Parkway) would be your primary option on this. I think there are several things that can be done to work this out.”