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Possible routes stir up dissent
Northern Connector stirring up chatter among residents in path of suggested routes
Ben Parker and Debbie Lawson Davis stand on the deck of the Destitute Way community boat dock Thursday morning and discuss the route of the proposed Northern Connector. One proposed route has a bridge spanning Lake Lanier next to their community dock.

After a careful walk down the rain-slickened slope, Ben Parker stands on the community boat dock in North Hall and scans Lake Lanier.

“You can’t believe that anybody would seriously consider this beyond any initial look,” he said of discussed routes for a road project that would take out his Destitute Way neighborhood.

According to a consultant’s technical study, three of four routes for the proposed four-lane Northern Connector would overrun the one-lane public — yet privately maintained — road, forested on both sides and skirting Lake Lanier.

“It is probably the worst place you could put it in terms of environmental impact, community impact, impact to the lake, expense, demolition of tax-generating revenue for the county,” Parker said. “There’s got to be a dozen ... better ways to do this.”

The Northern Connector, discussed in some detail at a government meeting in August, has caused quite a stir among residents who live in a suggested path — a swath stretching from Ga. 60/ Thompson Bridge Road to Ga. 365.

A grassroots group, Lake Lanier Community Preservation Association, has formed and set up a Web site.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in one short month,” said Debbie Lawson Davis, who has been tapped as the group’s spokeswoman.

“We have a board that’s trying to monitor (the road project), and our mission is really to preserve and protect Lake Lanier and North Hall communities.”

Also, the group plans to inform affected residents “of the need to take actions or to be aware of planning, transportation and zoning issues that affect (the area).”

Columbia, S.C.-based Wilbur Smith Associates featured the routes as part of the study for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, releasing a report at an Aug. 11 meeting of the organization’s policy committee.

“The importance of why we’re looking at this is the growth that’s going to occur in Hall County,” senior transportation planner Jeff Carroll said at that meeting. “It is estimated that almost 400,000 (will live in Hall) in 2030.”

Drawings show the road starting around the Mount Vernon Road area, possibly connecting with the planned Sardis Connector, another project that would carry motorists west to Dawsonville Highway.

The Northern Connector, projected to cost $150 million, would either end at White Sulphur Road or Whitehall Road at Ga. 365.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization is considering the project as it updates a transportation plan involving work that would be done up until 2040.

When discussing the Northern Connector, officials are quick to say that any plans for the road are very preliminary.

Wilbur Smith’s job was to perform a study just “to determine the need and impacts from an east-west connector on existing and projected congested corridors,” said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the planning organization.

“The concepts presented were solely provided to analyze traffic flow. They are not intended to depict routes or alignments,” Yamala said.

Randy Knighton, Hall County’s planning director, asserted likewise.

The study is intended “to assist in determining if this concept should move forward,” he said.

A public comment period also is planned for the Northern Connector, along with other projects in the long-range transportation plan, “to provide substantial citizen input opportunities ... to determine which road projects will be planned in the next 30 years.”

“Any proposed road project would be thoroughly reviewed and analyzed by citizens, staff and elected officials prior to any official determination being made,” Knighton said.

On Thursday, the planning organization released a “fact sheet” about the Northern Connector.

The document notes that the Northern Connector is listed as part of the organization’s 2030 transportation plan.

“The purpose of considering a Northern Connector is to address the lack of an east-to-west connection for traffic flow and to relieve traffic in currently and projected congested areas,” the fact sheet reads.

The initial concept showed a route spanning an area farther north of the four routes mentioned in the Wilbur Smith study and included two Lake Lanier crossings. It would run along a fair amount of existing pavement, including Mount Vernon and Jim Hood roads.

“No amendments to this concept ... have been made,” the fact sheet reads.

A 2009 Georgia Department of Transportation study of Ga. 365 identified White Sulphur and Whitehall roads as future interchange locations, county officials said.

Those two stops on Ga. 365, as well as Sardis Road on Thompson Bridge Road, served as connecting points “for traffic analysis only.”

Annette Forster said she believes the four routes cited in Wilbur Smith’s study contradict Vision 2030, an effort sponsored by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

That initiative “specifically pointed out preserving neighborhoods ... connectedness between neighborhoods,” said Forster, who is particularly concerned about the road’s potential impact on the former Olympic venue at Clarks Bridge Park.

“I know that, technically, once you put a bridge through this 3,500-meter stretch of water ... you’ve given up the opportunity to have a major international or national event,” said Forster, who represented Gainesville in a bid for a world championship.

“The rowing venue was cited in Vision 2030 as something that the community really needs to enhance and treasure,” Davis said.

Knighton said early last week he had fielded a couple of questions specifically about the venue.

“As we all know, the rowing venue is an extremely important asset and point of focus for the community,” he said. “Any concept would ensure that the protection of the venue is the highest priority.”