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Public begins to get say on transportation plan
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Public input
What: Area residents will have at least three other opportunities to comment on plans to update a long-range transportation plan for the Hall County area:
When: Public hearings set for Aug. 18 and Nov. 13; An open house in January
Where: Locations have yet to be determined.

Transportation officials have started the public input part of an effort to develop a long-range transportation plan for the Hall County area.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization held a meeting Thursday night at the Hall County Government Center in Gainesville to hear from residents about particular concerns they have about traffic and possible suggestions to ease congestion.

Heavy public input means “this plan is going to have the best shot at representing what you as a community want and need,” said Brian Bolick, vice president of Pond & Co., a Norcross firm that’s been hired by Hall to help produce the long-term plan.

“Your task and the task of your elected officials and your neighbors and the business community — everybody has to work together — is to prioritize (projects),” said Michelle Alexander, also of Pond.

“That’s a long list and you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. ... It’s not just about roads. It’s about how you live and how you get around in the future.”

Because Hall County is part of an air quality nonattainment area, it must update its long-term plan every four years. The current document, the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, was released in August 2011. The update must be completed by August 2015.

In addition to revenue concerns, officials also have more territory to cover in the plan update. As a result of 2010 census numbers, the MPO’s boundaries have grown to include a part of West Jackson County, particularly the Braselton area, which includes a stretch of Interstate 85.

Also, the MPO will need to consider an updated bicycle and pedestrian plan and a long-term Gainesville transportation plan, with both efforts — also guided by Pond — completed over the past year.

The meeting began with 30 minutes of area residents studying area maps and talking with Pond and MPO officials.

Kevin Keller, who lives in Suwanee but works in Braselton, said he believes current plans are basically on the right track, but said he would like to see a completion of the widening of Ga. 53/Winder Highway from Hall to Interstate 85.

Chris Puckett of South Hall said he wanted to see if there are plans for extending Ga. 347 beyond its stopping point at Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway.

Pointing at Spout Springs Road on a map, where it is the next major corridor north of Ga. 347, Puckett said, “I know everyone complains about that road, but I don’t think (traffic’s) that bad.”

It seemed everyone brought an opinion to the meeting, especially as it evolved into residents dividing into five groups seated at tables and poring over maps.

With a “facilitator” at each table to help guide discussion, residents began to open up about other corridors that troubled them, such as Jesse Jewell Parkway, a major four-lane road in Gainesville.

“The elephant in the room ... is Green Street,” said Jerry Castleberry of Gainesville, who served on a committee last year to develop a master transportation plan for the city.

“And then there’s a thing called Lake Lanier.”

The long-range plan now taking shape is scheduled to go before the planning organization’s policy committee — a decision-making body comprising the area’s top elected officials — on March 10 for final OK.

The document needs to be completed before August 2015 so the Atlanta Regional Commission can factor in Hall’s plans as part of air quality requirements, said Richard Fangmann, also of Pond.

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