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Road updates may ease fall travel
Regional projects set to resurface, rebuild roadways
0925traffic
Traffic backs up in both directions on U.S. 129 near downtown Cleveland. There is a long-range plan for a bypass around downtown Cleveland to ease traffic jams during busy seasons. - photo by Tom Reed

Northeast Georgia's leaf-watching season is about to gear up, as will the cars riding along many of the region's winding highways and byways.

Tourists and day-trippers filling up roads can expect some current and future road improvements to ease their travel, but nothing as radical as a new four-lane, or even two-lane, road circling Helen.

Gridlock will continue if you're heading into Alpine Village on fall weekends, especially during the popular Oktoberfest, under way until Oct. 31.

"We don't want to encourage anybody to go around the city," Helen City Manager Jerry Elkins said.
"By the same token, if (motorists) are not coming to the city of Helen, they may want to consider a separate route because we are so busy."

Visitors to the mountainous area can expect to see at least smoother pavement if they're heading north or south on Ga. 365, a key transportation artery that has taken an asphalt beating over the years.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is working with Marietta-based C.W. Matthews Contracting to basically rebuild the roadway.

The $19.2 million project calls for removing up to 8 inches of damaged asphalt and putting down a new driving surface between Ga. 52 in Hall County to Ga. 17 in Habersham County, a 21-mile stretch.

The job has an official June 30 completion date, but the contractor had hoped the bulk of the work would be done by Sept. 30.

"I don't think they're going to make it because (of last week's rain), but ... it will definitely finish early, certainly before winter hits full steam," said Teri Pope, DOT spokeswoman in the Gainesville office.

The contract with C.W. Matthews had a special clause concerning lane closings because of seasonal traffic, effective Sept. 15.

"They can't have any lane closures during the day on weekends," Pope said.

Also, the DOT plans to resurface and rebuild shoulders on Ga. 9 from West Main Street in Dahlonega to the Dawson County line, or 10 1/2 miles.

The project costs $1.6 million and has a completion date of May 31.

As weather permits, the work will occur from 8 a.m. to dark Mondays through Thursdays this Fall.

Restrictions in the contract do not allow work to occur Fridays through Sundays, or during the busy fall season, Pope said.

Dahlonega is another of the area's prime destinations for tourists in the upcoming months.

The city, home to North Georgia College & State University, also has seen steady growth over the years, with the downtown area congested throughout the year.

Morrison Moore Parkway, particularly, has seen rapid growth, including the opening of businesses, a Walmart shopping center and a new parks and recreation complex.

A traffic study of the area is under way, with the DOT having released some details about that on its website.

"The report is not finalized," Pope said. "... We are expecting the final report (this) week. We will review, get corrections and then post the final report to the website probably about Oct. 1."

The city of Cleveland is closer to seeing some much-needed improvements.

Like Dahlonega, it isn't just a seasonal stop. Motorists have to endure rush-hour travel headaches on U.S. 129 heading into the downtown square, which has undergone some DOT improvements of its own.

Plans have progressed for the Cleveland Bypass, which will run from U.S. 129 at the Walmart in an arc back to U.S. 129/Ga. 11 north of town.

In December, the State Transportation Board pulled from reserves to spend $400 million on projects statewide, including $17.8 million for the Cleveland Bypass.

White County is seeking $11 million toward the second phase of the project, as well as $43.9 million for U.S. 129 widening and rebuilding, as part of the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax vote set for July 31.

In the meantime, Judy Walker, president of the White County Chamber of Commerce in Cleveland, encouraged tourists to keep driving her way as they head for fall festivals throughout the region.

And if you go by car, getting ready for backups.

"Just be patient," she said, with a chuckle.

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