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Road project discussion turns to setting priorities
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Gainesville transportation focus group members gave opinions Thursday night on suggested road projects as part of a citywide master plan, but discussion also centered on how to rank projects based on need, available funding and other factors.

“If our top priority was to widen Green Street, for example, we couldn’t do that tomorrow,” said Richard Fangmann of Norcross-based Pond & Co., the city’s consultant in the study. “We’d have several things that would need to be done first.”

Bigger projects also need federal funding, and the future of that is not certain. The current federal spending bill, which ends late next year, already has its limitations, Fangmann noted.

“The other thing here is federal funding is going down,” he said.

The focus group, which is made up of residents giving their input to the development of a master plan for the city, informally decided at the end of its meeting at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center to meet again, after Pond & Co. sets priorities on projects in some kind of format and before they go through formal consideration.

Ultimately, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization — Hall County’s lead transportation planning agency — will consider the plan for inclusion in its short-term and long-term plans.

The MPO’s long-term plan features projects in time periods, or tiers, through 2040.

Speaking after Thursday’s meeting, Fangmann said he envisions a similar format for Gainesville’s plan. The projects also would feature estimated costs of construction, which haven’t been reflected so far in the master plan.

He said Pond hopes to have the draft plan ready by Aug. 15.

Pond and city officials have released a list of project recommendations, including new projects and intersection and road improvements.

Michelle Alexander, who serves in planning/community involvement for Pond, suggested to group members that, in looking to the next meeting, they consider the top three projects in each category of work.

“That might be a way to organize how you’re thinking about priorities ... and we’ll match those up with some of the technical side of things,” she said.

One of the group’s members, Feron Thompson, said he believed the city’s traffic plan also should identify quick projects, or “low-hanging” fruit, that can be done quickly and inexpensively.

“There’s no question that this process is going to be setting the stage for when federal funds become available (for major projects),” he said, “but if we leave this process and all we’ve done is identify the big projects and we wait till those happen and don’t deal with some (issues) immediately, we’re going to frustrate citizens.”

A few thoughts on major projects did emerge from Thursday’s meeting, notably concerning Green Street, which has been a traffic hot topic throughout the public input process.

The traffic plan suggests a combination of short-term to long-term fixes for the busy road, which now basically funnels traffic from downtown to areas north of town and into North Hall along Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road and U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway.

Group members said they would like to see improvements that take traffic off Green Street.

Fangmann said the recommendations do that, “but we find that Green Street still shows as being very congested.”

“These (projects) have to work in conjunction, some (done) sooner and some later, but they have to go in tandem over time to support each other,” Alexander said.

A project that met opposition from the group is a new road connecting Dawsonville Highway and Thompson Bridge Road, involving construction of a new bridge over Lake Lanier.

Mayor Danny Dunagan said he saw the county’s Sardis Connector project, which is farther out in the county, as addressing that travel pattern.

For many years, the county has studied building a four-lane road from the Sardis area to Thompson Bridge, possibly in the Mount Vernon Road area. Right-of-way acquisition is projected to cost $24 million. Construction is expected to run about $46.3 million.

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