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Residents skeptical of US 129 widening project
DOT has held meetings on project twice before
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Residents, consultants and DOT employees come together Thursday night at the North Hall High School gym in Gainesville over the proposed widening of U.S. 129. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Residents expressed a wide range of opinions on widening U.S. 129 in North Hall — often depending on how they were affected — at a Thursday night meeting, but comments were commonly followed by “if the road ever gets built.”

“I’m just going with the flow,” said Jason Truelove, who lives off Little River Park Road, north of Georgia State Patrol’s Post 6. “They say (the project) is closer, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

A public information open house on the 7-mile project drew 213 people to North Hall High School, where they browsed aerial maps circling the gymnasium floor, talked with Georgia Department of Transportation engineers, filled out comment sheets and talked to a court reporter.

The project, which calls for widening U.S. 129 to four lanes from Limestone Parkway to south of Jim Hood Road/Nopone Road, has been on the books longer than many residents have lived in the area, and Thursday night was the third time the DOT has held a public meeting on it.

Others were held in May 1998 and November 2007, with delays between those years created by changing engineering standards and federal environmental laws, DOT district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

“From 2007 to now, funding slowed the project,” she said.

Greg and Sharon Bates, who live just north of the Limestone junction, learned in 2007 — a year after they moved into the area — the DOT would take their house for its project. They came Thursday night to find out if new plans do the same.

And they do, “but it may be 10 years before they (build the road),” Greg Bates said.

“This is a long-term thing and I’m sure it’s difficult to acquire funding at this present time,” he said.

Pope said that “people are asking, ‘Are you really going to (build) it this time?’”

“Well, that depends on funding. We do have construction and right-of-way money identified for the bridges,” but not construction money for the widening, she said.

Also part of the project is replacement of a two-lane bridge over the Chattahoochee River and a two-lane bridge over the East Fork Little River, both on Lake Lanier.

Pope said when DOT officials hold another public meeting in 18 months to showcase “the best buildable route” for the project, “we’re hoping we’ll have that construction money identified.”

So, even the designs people were looking at Thursday night aren’t set in stone.

“That’s why we really need (public) input,” Pope said.

“The bridges would be built first, and as two-lane structures, and the widening project will build the parallel bridge for the other two lanes,” she said. “There’s no need for those additional lanes right now.”

Right-of-way acquisition on the bridges is set for fiscal 2015-16 and construction in fiscal 2017-18. Right-of-way acquisition on the widening project, which is set in fiscal 2017-18, affects 109 parcels, with 22 homes and three businesses displaced.

Pope estimated the entire project, including bridges and widening, could cost about $60 million.