ABOUT THIS SERIES
Reporter Jeff Gill and chief photographer Tom Reed 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 Lumpkin County.
The Road Ahead continues daily through July 1 as we visit each of the counties in the Georgia Mountains region.
Here’s a look at what’s ahead:
Tuesday: Rabun County
Wednesday: Stephens County
Thursday: Towns County
Friday: Union County
Saturday: White County
Sunday: What would an extra penny of sales tax mean to the average family?
When you talk roads in Lumpkin County, two biggies come to mind: Ga. 60 and Morrison Moore Parkway/Ga. 52, vital arteries into and around the tourism-heavy county seat and college town of Dahlonega.
And the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation addresses both.
If voters approve the tax on July 31, $48.5 million would be funneled toward the two roads.
David Wimpy, director of Lumpkin County Emergency Services, said a widened Morrison Moore is crucial.
“It would just be phenomenal for our response (times),” he said during a May 23 visit to the county. “Just the other day, there was a little bit of construction on Ga. 60 and it (took) 15 minutes to go two miles.
“And if you have someone in the back of the ambulance having a heart attack, that 15 minutes would be a matter of life and death.”
Dahlonega is a small, historic town in the North Georgia mountains that bustles with tourist traffic, especially at festival time. And it is also home to North Georgia College & State University, which is merging with Gainesville State College to become the University of North Georgia in January.
Last year, the Georgia Department of Transportation conducted a traffic study of downtown Dahlonega, finding that there were some 86,000 daily trips throughout the area in 2010. By 2035, that number is expected to increase to 150,000 trips, an increase of 73 percent.
The report recommended a slate of improvement projects, including fixes to Morrison Moore from west of West Barlow Road to north of Ga. 52 at U.S. 19/Ga. 60.
The sales tax program would address those, through adding a center turn lane on Ga. 52 from South Chestatee Street to Ga. 60 and making intersection improvements at Riley Road, Crown Mountain Place, East Main Street, Pinetree Way/Memorial Drive and North Grove Street at West Main Street.
Sales tax money also would be spent to widen Ga. 60 from the Hall County line to Ga. 400, which ends in Lumpkin at Long Branch Road.
The project calls for four lanes and efforts to improve sight distance by straightening out curves and flattening hills.
Jan Venable, owner of Gold City Landscape Supply Co., off Ga. 60, questioned the project’s importance.
“What is it going to benefit?” she said. “If they’re going to do something, widen Ga. 60 to Gainesville.”
The widening of Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road from Ga. 136/Price Road to the Lumpkin County line didn’t make Hall County’s projects list for the sales tax.
However, Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, has said that, if the sales tax is approved, regular gas tax revenues used to fund road projects could be freed to widen Hall’s part of Ga. 60.
Jeff Clymer, chairman of the Lumpkin County Republican Party, objects to the sales tax referendum as it is currently worded.
“I like the idea of moving from property tax to sales tax, but my problem with (the current plan) is the whole regional governance thing.”
Lumpkin is one of the 13 counties making up the Georgia Mountains region, which will decide as a whole whether to OK the 10-year tax. If the tax is approved, revenues would be amassed from all the counties, then distributed for projects throughout the region.
“If we passed a (sales tax) where 100 percent of the money stayed in the county, we could do more projects in our county,” Clymer said. “... I’m not big on a new tax that takes away power from our local commissioners.”
John Raber, chairman of the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners, recalled an earlier time when funding transportation needs was much simpler, usually involving a trip to Atlanta to meet with top officials there.
He remembered getting funding for Morrison Moore’s completion, as well as installation of sidewalks.
“We had money. The gas tax was good, people were traveling, the whole nine yards,” Raber said.