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Roadwork may begin on a bevy of projects in Hall
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Orange construction barrels could be commonplace in Hall County through the rest of the decade if funding levels remain where they are now.

Nearly $105 million in road construction is set to begin on roads and bridges over the next three years, and some $50 million is taking place now on two stretches of Ga. 347 in South Hall.

However, future transportation funding nationwide could be an issue, as a 27-month federal transportation bill propped up by general fund money expires in a couple of years.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials, including Deputy Commissioner Todd Long, have said they believe a new funding bill based strictly on gas tax revenues could put the brakes on many construction projects.

“Everything could change,” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s District 1, which covers Northeast Georgia, including Hall.

Pope identified seven projects that could launch over the next few years, including three major bridge projects.

Construction could start in the spring on the $8.5 million project to replace Clarks Bridge on Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road at Lake Lanier, near Clarks Bridge Park and the Olympic rowing and canoe and kayak venue.

The project is set for a January letting, Pope said.

Hall’s biggest project in the years ahead is the widening of U.S. 129/Athens Highway from Gillsville Highway to Jackson County. Set at $34.4 million, the project involves acquiring 183 parcels of property, with 40 acquired to date.

Construction is set to start in fiscal 2014-15 and will take at least two years to finish, Pope said.

Hall County officials have said the project is especially important for safety reasons — it will straighten out dangerous curves — and will help commercial truck traffic, as U.S. 129 connects Interstate 985 to Interstate 85. The road also serves as a major link to the Athens area.

Two other road widenings could take place in that same time frame — Ga. 347/Lanier Islands Parkway from McEver Road to Lake Lanier Islands, and Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway from Sawnee Avenue in Buford to Lanier Islands Parkway. Combined, they are projected to cost nearly $19 million.

Right-of-way acquisition is slated to begin this fiscal year on both projects.

Also planned in 2014-15 is a bridge replacement at Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway at the Chestatee River.

The DOT is looking to replace the bridge on Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road at the Chattahoochee River in 2015-16.

“The bridge (projects) can move forward or backward, as they are evaluated every year,” Pope said. “If a bridge gets worse, it could be (replaced) faster.”

Hall County has two major projects already under way, the widening of Lanier Islands Parkway from McEver Road to I-985 and Ga. 347/Friendship Road to Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway. It’s the same road, essentially, with I-985 the dividing line between both projects.

The Lanier Islands Parkway side is mostly commercial, with shopping centers and restaurants lining both sides of the road.

The Friendship side is mostly residential but cuts through a busy commercial area at Spout Springs Road in Braselton. Work has started on the Ga. 211 end of that project to coincide with construction of the planned Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton.

Hall County has a list of other projects it would like to get moving, most notably the widening of Spout Springs Road from Hog Mountain Road to Gwinnett County.

County and DOT officials held a public information open house Thursday night on the project, allowing area residents to view maps and question engineers.

According to Hall’s 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, Spout Springs is set for widening between 2018 and 2030.

In 2011, when the project was set as part of the 2040 plan, the estimated total cost was $44.8 million. The inflation-adjusted estimate in that 12-year time frame is $58.3 million.

There has been disagreement among officials over which unfunded projects should get top priority.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee was split in its Nov. 7 vote to put the proposed Exit 14 interchange off I-985 at the head of the line for construction dollars.

Exit 14, between Oakwood and Flowery Branch in South Hall, has been in the works for years as a way to help move traffic between two major arteries, McEver Road and Falcon Parkway. The proposed road would start at H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway, cross I-985 and connect with Martin Road.

Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs said he believed the move shows “support for the industry and commercial (development) that we have, that we have demonstrated in (that) area.”

Officials at King’s Hawaiian, a California-based bakery that began operating a plant off H.F. Reed last year, “are still asking me is (Exit 14) going to happen and when is it going to happen,” Scroggs said.

Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s Transportation Task Force had placed improvements at Jesse Jewell and John Morrow parkways in Gainesville ahead of the Exit 14 project.

The intersection “is the second-most congested intersection in Hall County ... and that would (bring) some relief to downtown Gainesville,” she said.