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Public interest growing in Gainesville's master transportation plan
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Jeanette Colbert, of Longview Drive in Gainesville, talks with the project manager for Pond & Co., Richard Fangmann, on Thursday evening at the second of three community meetings on the city’s transportation master plan. - photo by NAT GURLEY

With more details emerging about specific recommendations, Gainesville’s transportation master plan also is drawing more public interest.

The second of three public open-house sessions on the issue attracted an instant crowd Thursday night at the Gainesville Civic Center, unlike the first one held May 8.

People streamed through the doors of the Sidney Lanier Room to pore over a roomful of maps, fill out comment sheets and talk to officials.

“The process is going well,” said Jerry Castleberry, one of 10 city residents making up a transportation focus group. “There’s a lot of information and the time has come to do something with the information. I would hate to see it put on a shelf.”

Pond & Co. rolled out suggestions for road fixes, including new construction and improvements to existing roads, at a June 20 focus group meeting.

Pond addressed several traffic-heavy areas of Gainesville, including Green Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, downtown and Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway at McEver Road.

The suggestions also revived old talk about how to fix traffic issues while overcoming the barrier of Lake Lanier, which makes up much of Gainesville’s western border.

Several residents attending the open house said they believed improvements shouldn’t harm longstanding neighborhoods in Gainesville, such as those lining Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road from North Hall to the downtown area.

“I cannot grasp why going through neighborhoods to solve traffic (woes) is a good thing,” said Pat Ware. “I understand growth and progress, but it seems we’re heading toward being another Gwinnett (County).”

JoAnn Manring, attending with her husband, Joe, agreed.

“In-town neighborhoods need to be preserved as sacred ground,” she said. “There has got to be better alternatives.”

L. Jeanette Colbert, a Longview Drive resident, said motorists traveling Ga. 60 southbound often use neighborhoods as cut-through streets, resulting in frequent speeding and running of stop signs.

Something needs to be done about those issues, she said.

“I feel like we’re the forgotten part of town,” Colbert said.

Much of Gainesville’s traffic problems can be traced to Green Street, a four-lane strip hugged by historic buildings that runs between downtown and a fork that splits between Thompson Bridge Road and a road that becomes U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway.

Pond & Co. is recommending a configuration of “unbalanced lanes” — one lane for southbound traffic, two lanes for northbound traffic and a center turn lane.

Daniel Studdard, a Pond planner, has said, “That’s taking those left-turning vehicles out of the through lanes. It’s going to help your evening peak hour, which is going northbound primarily.

“The downside is if you’re going southbound, you will have more congestion. But we know that going northbound is a bigger problem right now than going southbound.”

Another proposal calls for a new roadway connecting the Dawsonville Highway area to Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road that is closer to Gainesville than the planned Sardis Connector.

Richard Fangmann, Pond’s director of transportation planning, has said one possible westside connection is Ahaluna Drive off Dawsonville Highway, possibly tying into Oakland Drive or “as far down as Enota Avenue” on the eastern side of the road.

“This would take a whole study because you’re crossing (Lake Lanier),” Fangmann said.

“That lake crossing won’t happen,” Colbert said, adding that she believes it would meet too much resistance from lake residents.

The focus group’s final meeting is set for July 25 and the last communitywide meeting — also taking place at the Gainesville Civic Center — is scheduled for Aug. 1.

The final plan will go to the Gainesville City Council, but its last stop is with the MPO’s decision-making Policy Committee.

Projects will be integrated to the agency’s short-term Transportation Improvement Program and long-term Metropolitan Transportation Plan, said Srikanth Yamala, MPO director.

“It’s going to take something bold to get this started,” Castleberry said.

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