Ten years ago, attendees at a transportation forum at the Gainesville Civic Center were asked to place a dot on the road project that was the highest priority to them.
Sardis Connector “was the No. 1 project,” recalled Billy Powell, West Hall County representative on the Hall County Board of Commissioners. “It got the most votes.”
The project — a four-lane road that would connect Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 in West Hall to Thompson Bridge Road/Ga. 60 in North Hall — has been overshadowed in recent years by South Hall road projects. Spout Springs Road, for one, is overdue for widening, officials have said.
But the Sardis Connector hasn’t left the radar, getting some attention lately with the county looking to improve a small but busy intersection, Sardis Road at Ledan Road.
Also, and perhaps ironically, the project’s future is now tied to the Spout Springs work as officials hope to use money reimbursed from Spout Springs to help pay for right of way in the Sardis Connector.
Regardless, residents like Terrell Gaines are eager for dirt to finally turn on the $47.5 million connector.
“I wish they’d go ahead and do whatever they’re going to do,” said Gaines, whose business, Happy Pappy’s Storage off Thompson Bridge Road/Ga. 60, is in the path of the planned four-lane road.
“If it’s a long while,” he added with a laugh, “they’ll probably have to deal with my daughter — she’ll inherit what my wife and I have.”
Chris Swan, senior pastor of Corinth Baptist Church off Ga. 60 and Mount Vernon Road, said members also are anxious about the work finally starting, even though the road would displace the church’s old sanctuary.
The project’s slow movement has put the church in sort of a spot concerning the historic building, as far as upkeep goes.
“Why put money into it if it’s going to be torn down?” Swan said. “Our concern is (the building’s condition) can go downhill over 10 years.”
The project officially has been on the books at least since 2004, when Hall County submitted the project to the Georgia Department of Transportation for its consideration, County Engineer Kevin McInturff said.
“It was probably conceived well before this time period,” he said.
Said Gaines: “The first time I ever heard abut (the Sardis Connector) was just word of mouth ... and it was back in the early 1980s.”
Over time, the DOT agreed to build the project if Hall County designed it. In addition to construction, project costs include $1.35 million for pre-engineering work and $20 million for right of way.
The road already has a beginning footprint — a four-lane section of Sardis between Ga. 53 and Chestatee Road.
From there, the road would travel roughly along Fran Mar Drive, Brackett Drive and Ledan Road. It would travel between Southers Road and Garden Boulevard before ending on Mount Vernon just east of Ga. 60.
The county’s long-range transportation plan, updated last year and revised every four years, says the new road could be open by 2023.
There is hope the project, and other major ones like it, could move faster with the General Assembly’s approval last year of a bill that eliminated the state fuel sales tax at the gas pump in favor of a 26-cent excise tax. The new tax system is expected to generate $757 million more in fiscal 2015-16 in transportation funding and $820 million in fiscal 2016-17.
In the meantime, Powell said, residents don’t talk to him so much about the connector as they do traffic at the Sardis-Ledan intersection.
“It’s not just school traffic, either,” he said. “It’s like in late afternoon, after school. ... Ledan is a major thoroughfare for people wanting to get (to Ga. 53).”
Last summer, the commission voted to hire Duluth-based firm Moreland Altobelli Associates to look at options, as well as costs and traffic impacts, for improving Ledan at Sardis.
The most cost-effective option, at this point, is a roundabout, McInturff said.
That work, if it moves forward, would be paid for from the county’s special purpose local option sales tax revenue.
Once the Sardis Connector is built, “the roundabout would likely be scrapped,” McInturff said.
For Powell, that was an issue.
“One of the options I wanted to look at was ... what if we built that (intersection) as if the connector was in place?”
But when officials came back with the $3.2 million estimate to do just widening work at the intersection, the idea was tossed.
“It was just ridiculous,” Powell said of the cost.
So, the wait goes on.
“The position I’m in now is (the project standstill) basically ties me up,” Gaines said. “Basically, I’m just sitting here holding it until something happens.”