Ronald and Margaret Gee of Talmo didn’t hold back their opinions of the planned widening of U.S. 129/Athens Highway in East Hall County.
“We have been waiting on this for years,” Margaret Gee said, followed by a quick “I wish they’d start tomorrow” from husband Ronald.
“It’s horrendous (traffic) especially at 4 or 5 (p.m.),” Ronald Gee said Thursday night after the couple left a Georgia Department of Transportation public meeting on the project.
Plans are underway to bring traffic relief, as well as improve safety, on the 7-mile corridor, making it a four-lane divided highway between Ga. 323/Gillsville Highway and the Pendergrass Bypass in Jackson County.
Residents could view maps lining walls of the gymnasium at Sugar Hill Elementary School at 3259 Athens Highway in East Hall. They also had the chance to ask DOT engineers questions about the project, chatting up close to a map and pointing to a particular twist or turn in the road.
The project has been discussed for years by the DOT as a way to improve travel between interstates 985 and 85.
The road is especially highly traveled during college football season in the fall, as the road serves as a main connector between Gainesville and Athens, where the University of Georgia is based.
“It’s a bottleneck between (the two cities),” Ronald Gee said. “And a lot of it is ballgame traffic.”
Also, Margaret Gee said, when there’s a bad wreck on I-85, traffic tends to get detoured onto U.S. 129 toward I-985 and then south back to I-85.
A newly widened U.S. 129 still might draw a lot of traffic off I-85, particularly trucks, but the Gees didn’t seem worried.
“It won’t all be gravy,” Ronald Gee said of the project. “But I think the pluses outweigh the minuses.”
Nancy Brookshire, postmaster for Pendergrass and Talmo and a Gainesville resident, agrees. As someone who travels the road daily to work and also oversees mail delivery in the area, she also believes the $46 million project is needed.
“I don’t anticipate a problem,” Brookshire said, speaking of expected work on the project. “I was glad to see that they will only close one road at a time (as part of the project) and it will only be for 30 days or less.”
The new road will follow closely to the existing route, straightening out some curves, and will have no new traffic lights. The only light now on the road is at U.S. 129 and Ga. 323.
Right-of-way purchases, involving some 200 parcels and costing some $22.7 million, finished up this week, DOT district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.
If the project is awarded in February, work could begin by late spring or early summer of 2016, she has said.
The work could take two to three years to complete.