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Public hearing set as Cleveland Bypass moves forward
Detours proposed as part of construction
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Public hearing

What: Plans for traffic detours as part of Cleveland Bypass construction
When: 5-7 p.m. March 3
Where: Gymnasium at Jack P. Nix Primary School, 342 W. Kytle St., Cleveland
Contact: Georgia Department of Transportation’s area office in Cleveland, 706-348-4848; district office in Gainesville, 770-532-5526.

In a year's time, the Cleveland Bypass has gone from a much-needed road project with no funding in sight to the Georgia Department of Transportation talking about detours when construction starts possibly early next year.

"We're all excited about the fact that they're getting so close to, as they say, putting a shovel in the ground," said White County Manager Carol Jackson.

A DOT public hearing on proposed detours for the project's first phase is set for 5-7 p.m. March 3 in the gymnasium at Jack P. Nix Primary School at 342 West Kytle St., Cleveland.

Maps and plans will be available, and DOT engineers will be on hand to answer questions. There will be no formal presentation.

The project calls for a new four-lane divided highway from Cleveland Highway/U.S. 129 to Ga. 115, going around the west side of town.

Detours are planned at Tesnatee Gap Valley Road, Donald E. Thurmond Parkway and Hope Drive, said Teri Pope, spokeswoman at the DOT's Gainesville office.

"Each detour will last for approximately one month while substantial grade changes are made to accommodate the new roadway," said DOT District Engineer Todd McDuffie.

The DOT is working to complete right-of-way acquisition on the project.

"Our goal is to let the project for bid late this fall or early winter, with construction to begin next spring," McDuffie said.

The project's first phase will begin at Hope Drive across from Walmart and stretch nearly 1.93 miles to Ga. 115.

The bypass has been discussed for decades as a way to help ease the bottleneck of traffic that flows into the Cleveland square. The road also serves as a popular route for fall tourists headed to Dahlonega, Helen and other mountain destinations.

Some debate has taken place over whether the road would choke downtown business or help draw more customers to it.

The project languished as DOT funding for projects dwindled - that is, until December when the State Transportation Board pulled from reserves to spend $400 million on projects statewide, including $17.8 million for the Cleveland Bypass.

"That is the only project in our district that got construction money out of that (vote)," Pope said, "so we are feverishly buying right of way, focusing on phase one right now."

Construction money hasn't been found for the project's second and third phases, which have the bypass continuing north in an arc back over to U.S. 129/Ga. 11 north of Cleveland and then along Hulsey Road to end at Ga. 75.

Still, construction of the first phase "is definitely progress," Pope said.

Jackson, which has long ties to White County, including representing it in the Georgia Senate, agrees.

If people are "not coming to Cleveland, I think it's great they're going to be able to go around Cleveland to get to their destination and maybe alleviate some of the traffic (in town)," she said.