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Road fixes beyond citys budget
South Hall town has $30K set aside for projects that could cost $7.5M
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A car drives down Jones Road, a 12-foot-wide road that connects Gainesville Street, also 12 feet wide, to two-lane Mitchell Street in Flowery Branch. Although the road needs work, much of the town’s road budget was eaten up by a culvert repair. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew talks about the timing of a downtown transportation study.

Flowery Branch’s annual roads budget pales in comparison to what it might cost to pursue roads projects described in a downtown transportation study.

A recent draft of the study shows the city would have to spend close to $7.5 million for a slate of new roads, intersection and road fixes and pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

The tiny but growing South Hall town has a $30,000 budget for roads this fiscal year, ending June 30, and that amount already has been eaten up by the replacement of a culvert that collapsed in December after near constant rain in late 2009.

And over the past four or five years, the city has spent, at most, $50,000 annually for road repairs.

The city stressed with Pond & Co., the Norcross engineering firm that put together the study, while it’s important to show good projects, “that’s meaningless unless we have some guidance on how we look at funding for this,” City Manager Bill Andrew said.

“We would be willing to work with them on looking at some different funding mechanisms, loan programs, perhaps some grants,” he said.

Grants, however, are “few and far between on work like this,” Andrew said. “And to get a grant for this type of work, you really would have to put in quite a bit of money yourself.”

Regardless of how Flowery Branch moves forward on the study results, “the city is going to have to get serious about a more well-funded road program,” he said.

City officials are combing through Pond’s draft now and plan to submit comments in the next couple of weeks. A final document could be ready in mid-April.

The roads study began as an idea in 2006, when the city identified it as a need in its comprehensive plan, City Planner James Riker said.

The city was able to pay for the $30,000 study using a $20,000 Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization grant and $10,000 city match.

Officials determined the study area would stretch from McEver Road in the north to Mulberry Street in the south, encompassing the town’s older portions, particularly downtown.

The city held a forum on Oct. 22 to get public input on such issues as roadway widths, safety improvements, on-street parking and easy access to Interstate 985 from McEver Road.

One city street that has gotten a lot of attention from residents and city staff is Jones Road, a 12-foot-wide road that connects Gainesville Street, also 12 feet wide, to two-lane Mitchell Street. The road ties into the vast Tide Water Cove subdivision.

Also, the city’s road network doesn’t allow for a straight shot between main arteries, most notably McEver Road and Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway.

Motorists find themselves dog-legging their way through streets, such as Gainesville and Main, as well as Lights Ferry Road, to reach main highways.

The study recommends some high-dollar fixes to those issues.

For example, extending Lights Ferry Road to Snelling Avenue is estimated to cost $632,500 at today’s values. A new road that would connect Gainesville Street to McEver Road could cost as much as $1.65 million.

Building a greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists could cost nearly $1.5 million.

And none of the projects include right-of-way costs.

One potential funding source is the special purpose local option sales tax, but “clearly with the amount of SPLOST money the city gets and the need for some of these projects, (City Council) will always be behind if they rely on that as a sole source to do these infrastructure improvements.”

Another possibility is general obligation bonds, especially as the city doesn’t have any bond debts.

In that case, however, “we’d want to make sure we were in good financial standing to take on the responsibility for those payments,” Andrew said.

Brian Bolick, Pond vice president, has said that funding is critical, but “knowing where you want to go is the first step.”

“Once you have that plan, you have the opportunity to take advantage of whatever funding or construction opportunities that come your way,” he said.

The city could require a developer to include certain improvements, already laid out as part of an overall transportation plan, in construction plans, Bolick said.

City officials plan to address possible Jones Road improvements at City Council’s meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in City Hall, 5517 Main St.

The Pond study says to widen the road to 24 feet and make intersection improvements would cost $220,000.

The city is looking at a cheaper solution — $28,000 to convert the road to one-way with a “slight realignment,” new signs, pavement and striping.

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