Habersham’s main roadway, Ga. 365, is also at the heart of the county’s regional road improvement projects going before voters on July 31.
“The regional aspect (of the projects) is very significant because Northeast Georgia is becoming one of the most popular areas (in the state) and managing traffic is extremely important up here,” Cornelia Mayor J.C. Irby said.
“The number of fatalities we’ve had on the stretch from Lula is tremendous.”
Tourists stream along Ga. 365 on their way to the mountains and travel can be treacherous, especially as speeding doesn’t let up as Interstate 985 becomes Ga. 365 in Hall County.
Habersham county, which is part of the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, is proposing to build interchanges on the four-lane highway at Mount Airy Road and Duncan Bridge Road, at a combined $64 million price tag. The projects will cost much more when adjusted for inflation.
Revenue from the transportation sales tax wouldn’t be enough to cover both projects, but officials expect to use it to leverage federal and state dollars to complete the work, said Sonny James, chairman of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners.
James served on the Georgia Mountains Regional Transportation Roundtable and as head of the roundtable’s executive committee, which did most of the work in putting together the projects.
Improvements at both crossings call for “changing the existing at-grade signalized intersection to an interchange, with ramps allowing connections between Ga. 365 and (the intersecting road),” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s District 1, which includes Habersham.
“By separating traffic, traffic flow improves on both roads, enhancing efficiency and safety,” she said.
Resurfacing was done last summer at the intersections to improve pavement that “was cracking and coming apart,” Pope said.
The work won’t be wasted if new interchanges are built. The new asphalt would stay in place as construction takes place in other parts of the project, she added.
The county’s other project is construction of a roundabout at Ga. 385/U.S. 441 Business and Ga. 17/Ga. 197, a busy crossroads in Clarkesville. The work is expected to cost $4.5 million and would be fully funded by the transportation tax.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of traffic here,” James said.
The roundabout is surrounded by businesses, including Stoney’s Family Restaurant, which has been at the same spot for 47 years.
“We’ve been hearing about (the project) for years,” owner Anita Crane said, nodding solemnly. “It would probably close my drive-thru down (because of its closeness to the road), and we do a lot of business through our drive-thru.”
She and her daughter, Jennifer Ward, the restaurant’s assistant manager, also are familiar with the sales tax referendum. Asked if they would vote against it because of the project’s impact on the business, they said in unison, “Yes.”
“We have several families that depend on this job,” Crane said.
“Ours being one of them,” Ward said.