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Potential South Hall trail system hits a snag at I-985 in Flowery Branch. Here’s why
Flowery Branch must decide how to spend $2 million budgeted for improvements at Interstate 985's Exit 12, now that the Georgia Department of Transportation has decided to shelve widening I-985. - photo by Jeff Gill

Interstate 85 congestion is having a domino effect in Hall County — down to providing a safe pathway for bicyclists and other trail enthusiasts at Interstate 985 in Flowery Branch.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has launched a study of I-85 between I-285 and I-985 to find ways to ease heavy congestion along the corridor, including a possible fix of the junction at I-85 and I-985.

The move effectively shelved widening I-985 from I-85 to Mundy Mill Road, or Exit 16, in Oakwood.

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said in March that a study of the I-985 project recommended not to proceed because “no widening of I-85 was included” as part of the project. “Widening of I-85 would be required to take the increased volume from I-985,” he said.

The shelving meant related improvements at Exit 12, including widening the roadway underneath the overpass, would be put off as well. It also meant Flowery Branch didn’t need to spend the $2 million in special purpose local option sales tax it had committed to road improvements there.

And trickling further down, the unimproved section at Exit 12 now creates an issue for a much-discussed South Hall trail system.

“As of now, the sidewalk underneath Exit 12 is too narrow to accommodate a multi-use path,” said Joseph Boyd, transportation planning director for Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The path was expected to connect downtown Flowery Branch west of I-985 with the main spine of the trail near Hog Mountain and Spout Springs roads east of I-985, Boyd said.

Without improvements at the interchange, the trail “will either have to find another route to connect into downtown Flowery Branch or else have a gap in the network,” he said.

Pedestrians would still be able to use the sidewalk under the bridge at I-985, but cyclists “would probably have to dismount to safely cross, since there is not enough space for them to safely ride,” Boyd said.

As for any other potential trail connections between the main spine and Flowery Branch, “we really aren’t sure,” he said.

However, Boyd added, “none of these segments are super close to construction, so we’ve got time to figure it out.”

Rich Atkinson, Flowery Branch’s director of planning and community development, agreed with Boyd’s assessment.

“The widening would have had a huge positive impact on Flowery Branch, but for now we are just in a holding pattern,” he said.

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