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The Road Ahead: Ga. 17 projects are the focus in Stephens County
A truck passes by the Barbecue Shack on Ga. 17 in Stephens County on a section of the road that would be widened if the transportation tax passes. - photo by Tom Reed


We recently ventured into the North Georgia mountains for a driving tour of the proposed road projects that are a part of the July 31 transportation sales tax vote. Each day through July 1, join us as we visit each of the 13 counties in the Georgia Mountains region, which stretches from Hall County to the Carolinas, to plot the roadways and intersections targeted for improvements.

Today’s installment looks at the projects proposed in Stephens County.


Here’s a look at what’s ahead:

Thursday: Towns County
Friday: Union County
Saturday: White County
Sunday: What would an extra penny of sales tax mean to the average family?

The Barbecue Shack, which draws customers from as far away as Gainesville, should dodge the bulldozers if and when Ga. 17 is widened in front of the Stephens County business.

But patrons would have to pass it on the new four-lane, then make a U-turn in the median to get to the restaurant, said Lisa Jordan, who helps run the business.

“That’s going to be an inconvenience, but we’ve talked to our customers about it,” she said. “A lot of people thought we were going to close.”

Still, the proposed Ga. 17 widening from Scott Road to Memorial Drive, a $24 million project, hinges largely on whether residents vote for an additional 1 percent sales tax for transportation.

Stephens is part of the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, which also includes Hall County, that will vote July 31 on the new tax. The referendum will be statewide, but each of 12 established regions would individually reject or approve the tax.

If it passes, the county also would receive $25 million toward the $61.7 million widening to four lanes of the Ga. 17 Bypass from Ga. 17 to U.S. 123/Ga. 365 in Toccoa, a stretch of about 4.73 miles.

Officials hope they would be able to use the sales tax money to leverage another $36.7 million in federal and state gas tax money to complete the project.

Sales tax money, on the other hand, would pay for all of the Ga. 17 project in front of Jordan’s restaurant.

That work would be part of the overall widening of Ga. 17, a main traffic artery through several North Georgia counties, from Toccoa to Franklin County. Ga. 17 is four lanes through Franklin to Interstate 85.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is finishing right-of-way acquisition now on a stretch of Ga. 17 between Franklin and Scott Road, an estimated $61.2 million project set for construction in fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for District 1, which includes Stephens.

The sales tax project would pick up at Scott Road and would head northwest to Toccoa, crossing Veterans Parkway and ending at Memorial Drive.

“It would hurt us during the construction,” Jordan said of the project, “but I think, in the end, it will help us.”

The proposed sales tax hasn’t been widely embraced in Stephens County.

The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a stand on the issue, unlike chambers in Hall and Forsyth counties, where the bulk of the tax money would be spent, as well as generated.

“People already go to South Carolina to shop,” said Wendi Bailey, president of the Toccoa-Stephens chamber.

“All the construction workers go there. People go there to buy gas, cigarettes, liquor and everything else.”

The sales tax across the border is 5 percent, compared to 8 percent in Stephens and the rest of the Georgia Mountains region if the transportation tax passes. The sales tax is now 7 percent in the Georgia Mountains.

Bailey said she has talked with Hall and Forsyth chamber officials, who support the tax, to “let them know where we are and what the situation is. It’s difficult for us.”

Many residents, who get much of their news from South Carolina media outlets, aren’t even familiar with the tax vote, she said.

Others are, but are even more aware of the proposed projects.

Janice Graham, a cashier at Rock Creek Food Mart, said she favors the proposed Ga. 17 Bypass extension, as she expects it will stir up business.

“There’s a lot of traffic on that road,” she said.