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Local leaders make case to keep Hall road planning district intact
Officials hope data shows county still has separate identity from Atlanta
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Hall County is far from a bedroom county.

While many may make the often-painful trek to metro Atlanta on a daily basis, more than two-thirds of Hall residents stay in the county to earn their living.

That’s according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data that area roads officials have pulled to help prove a point — Hall County has an identity that’s separate and distinct from metropolitan Atlanta.

For the most part, “people who live in Atlanta work in Atlanta — they don’t drive to Gainesville. And vice versa,” said Sam Baker, senior transportation planning director for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Hall area’s lead transportation planning agency.

“The majority of people who live here, work here.”

The census data does show that 9,197 Hall County residents travel to Gwinnett to work, but that number makes up just 2.7 percent of Gwinnett’s overall jobs. Meanwhile, some 54,295 Hall residents hold down 68 percent of the nearly 80,000 jobs in Hall.

WHERE DO HALL RESIDENTS WORK?

The issue has come up recently because of a proposed federal rules change that looks to merge the MPO with the Atlanta Regional Commission, which includes metro Atlanta counties such as Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb.

That’s a move that has Hall officials fearing the county’s top road priorities could get lost in the shuffle when weighed against metro Atlanta’s priorities.

Gainesville-Hall already has its own exhaustive list of projects that doesn’t even account for all its road needs.

For example, widening Browns Bridge Road/Ga. 369, from McEver Road to Forsyth County, one of Hall’s busiest arteries, isn’t even on the radar until 2033-40.

WHERE DO HALL WORKERS LIVE?

In response, area officials have fired off letters appealing that the change — also calling for not

merging the Cartersville-Bartow Metropolitan Planning Organization into the ARC — not take place.

Such a move would result in a planning area that would “be too large and complex,” Hall County Planning Director Srikanth Yamala wrote in a letter to federal officials.

A single transportation plan for what would be 23 counties “will lead to a substantial loss of established local control over transportation decisions in the three regions,” Yamala said.

The move also has drawn the ire of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.

“Once again, we see evidence of bureaucrats in Washington having very little understanding of regions they oversee,” he said.

Collins praised the Gainesville-Hall MPO “for coming out in strong opposition to this merger, and I intend to submit comments of my own reflecting the same opposition.”

Hall officials have said that governors “may determine (that) more than one MPO is appropriate” in a metro planning area.

Officials with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office couldn’t be reached for comment.

The ARC isn’t happy with the proposed change, either.

“We categorically oppose it,” said David W. Haynes, the agency’s regional planning manager for transportation access and mobility.

“We believe, at the core, this rule exceeds congressional intent,” he said.

In addition, it would be “very confusing for the public to try to understand where they need to go to have their transportation needs addressed,” Haynes said.

The issue isn’t particularly new to the Hall area, as part of Flowery Branch and the Braselton-Hoschton area in West Jackson County were considered part of metro Atlanta after the 2010 census.

Officials decided — and signed joint agreements — that those areas should remain in the Gainesville-Hall MPO and not in ARC, as they felt traffic patterns were common among the areas.

Much of Braselton is in Hall County, with a couple of key arteries — Friendship Road and Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211 — playing a key role in transportation plans and improvements.

The issue is expected to flare up again, regardless of what happens with the current federal proposal.

The 2020 census could show even further movement of metro Atlanta into Hall County, particularly South Hall, which is home to such mega-developments as Sterling on the Lake, Reunion Country Club and Village at Deaton Creek.

“I anticipate that urbanized boundaries will definitely change,” said Joseph Boyd, transportation planner with the Gainesville-Hall MPO.

At this point, however, “I don’t know as to which growth will come from which direction,” he said.

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