Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said his daughter recently asked him why he couldn’t take another route besides McEver Road to avoid getting stuck in traffic at Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.
“I said, ‘There’s this thing called Lake Lanier to the left. Unless I have a boat or plane, I have to go this way,’” Andrew told a crowd gathered Thursday, Oct. 25, for a meeting about downtown Flowery Branch traffic.
“Here (in Flowery Branch), if you’re on Lights Ferry Road seven years from now and you’re experiencing delays that are unacceptable, there are several alternatives to take.”
Downtown traffic issues, highlighted by a rapidly growing residential population and Norfolk Southern trains moving through town, was the subject of morning and night public hearings at City Hall.
A total of about 40 people, some particularly vocal, showed up for the meetings.
The prickliest issue is the city’s considering a proposal to close the Chattahoochee Street railroad crossing.
Norfolk Southern has offered to put in a signal known as a “lunar light” that would help guide trains to at least clear the Lights Ferry crossing, the most frequently used crossing downtown. Lights Ferry provides a straight shot for motorists from McEver Road to Interstate 985.
In return, though, Norfolk Southern wants to close the Chattahoochee crossing, just north of the Spring Street crossing. The railroad would pay for the closing, plus give the city $50,000.
But the city, if it wants to go that route, has to act fast. The railroad has the expenses in its budget, ending Dec. 31.
“This is probably the best deal we’re going to get from the railroad,” Mayor Mike Miller said at the night meeting. “They are at the point that they could walk away now and just say, ‘Fine, we’re … just going to park the train where we’re supposed to. You all deal with it.”
Still, residents said they were concerned about how downtown congestion would only intensify with the crossing closed and hundreds of homes being built nearby. Residents talked about how downtown streets need improvements, including sidewalks.
“Where’s our priorities?” asked one resident. “All the property is being used for (new) housing.”
Kristi Watson asked city officials if they would consider temporarily blocking Chattahoochee Street at the crossing to see how a closure would work.
She and husband John, who have properties on Spring and Church streets, were concerned that downtown streets couldn’t handle the extra traffic.
“We’re all about development,” John Watson said, upon leaving the morning meeting. “However, the infrastructure is so behind that people who have invested (downtown) — it’s like we’re getting dumped on. Our biggest concerns are safety and infrastructure.”
Also, as part of helping traffic flow at the Lights Ferry crossing, the city is looking at making Railroad Avenue a one-way street between Lights Ferry and Main Street. Under the plan, motorists wouldn’t be able to travel Railroad Avenue from Main to Lights Ferry.
Closing the Radford Road crossing north of the Chattahoochee crossing also has come up as an option. The McEver Road side of the crossing is in Flowery Branch and the Atlanta Highway side is in unincorporated Hall County.
Will Miller, a Norfolk Southern representative who attended the morning meeting, said the crossing’s fate depends on how things work out with the new Exit 14 being built on Interchange 985.
The interchange, expected to be finished next summer, would connect Martin Road at Atlanta Highway east of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway west of I-985.
H.F. Reed leads to McEver Road, crossing over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
“If trucks are safely crossing (over the tracks), then we would try to eliminate (the Radford) crossing over time, if we’ve got support from the county and the city,” Miller said.