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The Road Ahead: School intersection improvement is a key project in Hart County
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William Lay picks up his son, Jordan, at North Hart Elementary School. One of the planned transportation projects in Hart County would improve the flow of traffic for parents picking up and dropping off their children. - photo by Tom Reed

It’s a day people still remember at North Hart Elementary School — a student dying in an accident at a nearby major intersection.

The wreck struck such a chord in the community that when it came time for government officials to draw up projects for the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax, the intersection of Ga. 77 at Ankerich and Kelly roads came to mind.

“We really need that intersection worked on badly,” said William Lay, who was picking up his 11-year-old son, Jordan, on the last day of school, May 25. “If you’re not paying attention and you’re coming over that hill, (the intersection) will come up on you quickly.”

A proposed $4.1 million project would lower the grade of the hill on Ga. 77 approaching the school, allowing for better sight distance. Also, turn lanes could be added.

Hart County, the outermost county in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, would receive nearly $14 million for three projects if the region, as a whole, votes to approve the sales tax on July 31.

Lay, for one, is throwing his support behind the tax.

“It’s one of those things that’s a necessary evil,” said the Gainesville native now living in Bowersville. “We don’t want (the tax) because the pocket is getting hit enough, but if it’s going to make that intersection and other intersections safer, I’m willing to do it.”

And with a grin, Lay added, “I’m pretty sure I’ll spend that money on something worthless anyway.”

The county on the South Carolina border also is proposing widening Ga. 77 to four lanes from Interstate 85 to Ga. 59.

Another project calls for improvements on Ga. 59 from Ga. 77 to Ga. 17, including turn lanes at intersections and the straightening of curves and flattening of hills for improved sight distance.

“The county sees this as an industrial/business corridor,” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s District 1, which includes Hart. “We don’t have exact locations of improvements because no design work has been done.”

Pope also noted that the Ga. 59 improvements are not considered a DOT project and “will not occur if (the sales tax) does not pass.”

Hart County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who served on the regional transportation roundtable that came up with the project list, said the county has pushed the project because, “right now, anything we can do to attract industry, we’re trying to.”

Johnson has said he would have preferred that the sales tax referendum had been framed differently.

“I know I would feel better if we ... would let our own people tax ourselves and keep the money in the county and then use that as we see fit,” he said.

But Johnson added that he is ready to accept whatever the voters decide.

“We’ll have to comply with it, and we’ll be as careful with that money as we can and make it go as far as we can,” he said.