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Plans for Ga. 347 include roundabout
Some business owners worry about effect of traffic circle, construction
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While construction is rolling along on most of Ga. 347 in South Hall, the last link of that project — between McEver Road and Lake Lanier Islands — is in the throes of design.

And one of the key features of that segment is a roundabout, or traffic circle, at New Bethany and Big Creek roads, where Lanier Islands Community Church and the church’s cemetery are key landmarks.

The route would go behind the cemetery, which sits across Ga. 347 from the church, bringing side streets into Ga. 347, said Teri Pope, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s district spokeswoman.

National Environmental Policy Act rules don’t allow for the road project to affect the cemetery.

Still, “shifting the road behind the cemetery will also help straighten out curves in the roadway, improving safety,” Pope said.

At a DOT forum in March at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, District Engineer Bayne Smith referred to the roundabout in a summary of area road projects, saying, “I think that has generated some interest.”

It sure has caught the attention of Emily Bailey, owner of Lake Lanier Boat Storage at 6224 Lanier Islands Parkway. Her business is just past where Ga. 347 would veer off into the new alignment.

“It’s going to skip us,” Bailey said. “... We won’t have road frontage anymore. You won’t be able to see our (business). We probably won’t even have access to put a sign.

“So, what I had as commercial property on Lanier Islands Parkway will no longer be ... and the value will just decrease dramatically. And my customer base will probably drop.”

Alex Laidlaw, vice president of operations for Westrec, which manages Holiday Marina near the resort’s entrance, also has worries about the traffic circle.

“My biggest concern is how wide it’s actually going to be, because we’re going to have to be able to maneuver big houseboats around that thing,” he said.

Otherwise, “I’m in favor of traffic circles, because I’ve traveled in Europe quite a bit,” Laidlaw said. “I think they work really, really well. But, unfortunately, in this country, they don’t use them a lot.

“People are kind of confused by them.”

They certainly aren’t common in Hall County. One is located at Mathis and Landrum Education drives at the UNG/Lanier Technical College campus in Oakwood and three are on the Lake Lanier Islands resort.

“Roundabouts are the preferred safety and operational alternative for a wide range of intersections,” the DOT’s website states.

They can be “considered as an alternative for all intersections that are being reconstructed, including those where a traffic signal is being proposed.

“This is especially true for intersections that have been identified as needing major safety or operational improvements.”

The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted officially to support the roundabout.

A Feb. 28 letter from Chairman Richard Mecum to the DOT states that the county agrees to pay the energy costs for any lighting that’s installed and to maintain landscaping at the roundabout “in the event (it) is selected as the preferred concept alternative.”

Pope couldn’t offer many details about plans for the new route between McEver and the resort, as design work is ongoing.

However, concerning the roundabout, the section of what is now Ga. 347 “will become a local road and be maintained by the county,” she said.

A cul-de-sac would be built at either end of that old stretch, or at Whidby Road and Merritt Drive.

“Motorists can still access that section ... from the newly extended New Bethany Road or from Lee Circle,” Pope said.

Joey Jernigan, lead pastor at Lanier Islands Community Church, declined to comment on the project, as “there are still many questions and unfinished design details regarding the final plan ... as well as the proposed roundabout.”

A public information open house is expected to take place this summer, possibly in September, on the 2.4-mile project, which calls for a center turn lane, a multiuse trail on one side and sidewalk on the other.

Right-of-way acquisition is slated to start in fiscal 2013-14, involving 62 parcels, at an estimated cost of $2.6 million. Construction is set to begin in fiscal 2014-15, costing about $10.8 million.

“In general, I’m totally in favor of (the project),” Laidlaw said. “I think it’s something we’ve needed for a while. It fits into the (rest of Ga. 347 widening).”

The DOT is widening Ga. 347 in two separate projects from McEver Road to Ga. 211/Winder Highway near Braselton.

The first project, running along Lanier Islands Parkway from McEver to Interstate 985, runs primarily through a commercial/retail area.

The second one, running from I-985 to Ga. 211, goes through mostly rural and residential areas, except at Spout Springs Road. The Northeast Georgia Health System is building its Braselton campus off a new alignment of Ga. 347 near Ga. 211.

The stretch of Ga. 347 between I-985 and Spout Springs is now known as Friendship Road, but, as result of a Hall County Board of Commissioners decision earlier this year, will become Lanier Islands Parkway in January 2015, or when construction is completed on that corridor.

Grier Todd, Lake Lanier Island’s chief operating officer, said he believes “the whole road is going to have an economic impact on the area.”

But before the road is finished, there’ll be an onslaught of orange construction barrels and heavy equipment — such as what’s happening now on the rest of Ga. 347.

Kurt Backus, who owns Atlanta Marine at 6450 Lanier Islands Parkway, with wife Lisa, said the road construction could affect business negatively, “but we have additional locations off the road where we can still conduct business.

“I’ve got contingency plans.”