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State roads bank may fund area construction projects
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Cars line the side of the road Sept. 17 waiting to turn into Enota Elementary School in Gainesville as parents wait to pick up their kids. Non-school traffic is forced to use the center turn lane in order to get through traffic. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Proposed projects
Here are projects area governments are hoping to do with Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank money:
Flowery Branch: extending Pine from Church Street to Railroad Avenue downtown
Gainesville: realigning South Enota Drive
Hall County: new bridge on Tumbling Creek Road over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks; enhancements to Ga. 347, or Exit 8, bridge at Interstate 985

Hall County governments have found a new, potential cash source to help fund road projects — the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

Although operating for several years, the state-run loan/grant program hasn’t been tapped into by area governments until last year, when Gainesville and Flowery Branch secured $2.1 million in funding.

With an application deadline looming Monday, Hall County, Gainesville and Flowery Branch have scrambled in the past couple of months assembling proposals for a whole batch of projects, including new road construction.

“What makes GTIB such a potent program for a small city like Flowery Branch is that they are able to give significant grants and extremely low-interest loans to projects that need the critical match to get built,” Flowery Branch city planner John McHenry said.

“These are unencumbered dollars that don’t come with a laundry list of requirements, and (the bank is) a partner committed to your project’s success.”

Bert Brantley, deputy executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, which manages the bank, said the program’s main thrust “is to leverage limited state dollars available ... to fund high-impact, high-priority local projects that need that last bit of funding to get to construction.”

“Where possible, we also like to advance projects with innovative design elements, so we have funded diverging diamond interchanges, roundabouts and other innovative techniques that, if proven successful, can be used around the state.”

The program is funded through state gas taxes, allocated in each year’s state budget.

The state has $29 million to award in the 2016 round of funding, Brantley said.

The key thing for governments interested in getting the money to know is the process is competitive.

“Typically, less competitive projects consider loans because they aren’t likely to be competitive with the other grant applications,” Brantley said, citing ones focused on landscaping or resurfacing as examples.

Government officials can’t seek grants or loans on their own; they need to get their respective elected bodies to approve such requests first.

Flowery Branch officials cited their success in getting money for the Lights Ferry Connector last year in trying to sway the city council to agree to a project involving the extension of downtown’s Pine Street.

The program helps governments “jump-start or complete much-needed improvement projects,” states a city document on the Pine Street project.

Construction is underway on the $2.1 million Lights Ferry Connector between McEver Road and Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway, with $1.6 million coming from a loan and grant provided by the bank.

The Flowery Branch City Council voted Thursday to seek more money so it could extend Pine from Church Street to Railroad Avenue as part of a bigger plan involving construction of a new city hall.

Gainesville, meanwhile, is using last year’s grant money for turn-lane work along Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road/Jesse Jewell Parkway.

The city is seeking money this year to realign South Enota Drive, a $4 million project that includes building a new road behind Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy at 1340 Enota Ave. NE.

Last month, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted to seek money for a new $3.4 million bridge on Tumbling Creek Road over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and $2.2 million in dressing up the Ga. 347, or Exit 8, bridge at Interstate 985.

The Exit 8 and South Enota Drive projects have caused the most stir among residents.

Pam Puckett, one of a group of vocal Friendship community residents in South Hall, questioned the value of the Exit 8 project, which is being pushed by the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority.

“Taxpayer money should first be used to solve transportation problems,” she said.

Frequent Hall government critic Doug Aiken agreed with that sentiment, saying “Rather than doing cosmetics on a bridge, take those dollars and fix the things that are really broken.”

Hall government spokeswoman Katie Crumley defended the project, saying, “Since Exit 8 is the first exit in Hall County as motorists head north from the metro area, it is widely recognized as the gateway into not only our community, but the entire Northeast Georgia region.

“Any enhancements … would complement economic development throughout Hall County and would augment the investment the state has already made in the Friendship Road/Lanier Islands Parkway corridor. “

The Georgia Department of Transportation is widening or has plans to widen Ga. 347 from Lanier Islands resort to Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway.

As for the South Enota project, “I don’t want it to mess up a middle-class, affordable neighborhood,” said Fletcher Law, a Cumberland Valley Road resident.

He’s also worried about effects on Enota Academy.

“They have a small playground anyway,” Law said.

Gainesville officials have said the project is a long way from being nailed down and that a public hearing would held beforehand.

The state asks “each applicant to describe the project’s benefits in a number of categories,” including economic merit, innovation and the impact on mobility, Brantley said.

“While each project doesn’t have to meet all these categories, the strongest projects will have elements from as many categories as possible,” he said.

When state officials will announce the 2016 awards “will depend on how many applications we receive,” he said. “The more we receive, the longer it takes to evaluate all the proposals.”

 Announcements could be March or April, Brantley said.

 

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