Hall County Planning Director Srikanth Yamala’s describing state plans for an Interstate 985 interchange off Martin Road as a ship that “has left the harbor” didn’t sit well with residents protesting the project Tuesday night.
“I’ve got news for you — this ship hasn’t sailed,” resident Allen Read said during a community meeting on the project.
Others in the crowd of about 100 at Mulberry Creek Community Center in South Hall jumped on the nautical reference as they criticized the Georgia Department of Transportation project, which could start getting built as early as this fall.
“If it’s not bid (out), the ship has not sailed,” Chris Caudle said. “It’s not done.”
For about two hours, residents expressed concerns about the interchange, otherwise known as Exit 14, and the potential impacts it would have on the mostly residential Martin Road, which runs for nearly 2 miles between Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 and Winder Highway/Ga. 53.
Residents particularly feared that the new interchange would dump truck traffic — even though illegal — onto two-lane Martin, where vehicles would have to navigate hills and curves traveling past homes, churches and subdivisions.
“Nobody in this room is more angry about this plan and, after 25 years in the (military) service, I’ve seen a lot of screwed-up plans,” said resident Al Harris, who served as the event’s moderator.
The interchange project, which has been in the works for about 15 years, calls for the $27 million diamond interchange to connect Martin Road at Falcon Parkway on the east side of I-985 to H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway at Thurmon Tanner Parkway on the west side.
While the east side is mostly residential, the west side is largely industrial, with the interchange project having been lauded as an economic development booster.
And growth is already taking shape. In June, Oakwood City Council approved a 20-acre industrial and commercial development off McEver at H.F. Reed. Part of the project calls for construction of an 180,000-square-foot building that could be used for manufacturing or distribution.
City Manager Stan Brown asked the developer at the council meeting, “You also think that Exit 14 is an important factor for this type of development?”
“Definitely, for this development and for the commercial side of it,” the developer said.
Residents at Tuesday’s meeting certainly had a different perspective.
Gary McClung, referring to the interchange project and another plan to widen Martin Road to four lanes, starting in 2025, said, “These two projects are not needed and they’re not wanted.”
Earlier this year, area officials did direct the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, to conduct a study of Martin Road and possible traffic alternatives in that area.
A consultant could be on board by September, Yamala said, adding that residents would be involved in the process.
“We want the community to be part of this study,” he said.