Plans for a connector road at Dawsonville Highway and McEver Road in Gainesville are being reevaluated after a study found an alternate route would not be the most efficient way to address traffic in that area, where the city’s retail is concentrated.
Dawsonville Highway is frequently used as a commuter route, and at its intersection with McEver Road sits several large shopping centers that also bring in traffic. So, the city partnered with the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization and matched $160,000 in federal funds with $40,000 in city dollars to invest in a study looking at alternate routes to get from Dawsonville Highway to McEver.
The study, completed by the Atlanta consulting firm RS&H, began in January 2018 and ended in December. It included a survey, which was taken by 644 people, an open house meeting in March 2018, and an analysis of travel patterns in the area.
One finding was especially surprising to officials — Dawsonville Highway is more often used as a through route than as a driver’s final destination. Another more expected discovery was a spike in traffic in the middle of the day as people run errands or go to lunch.
After looking at eight alternate routes from Dawsonville Highway to McEver, RS&H settled on two finalists, Steve Cote, a senior planner with the firm, told the City Council Thursday.
One of the routes would begin at the Dawsonville Highway entrance to the North Lake Square shopping center, home to Academy Sports and Outdoors. The road would then go behind the McEver Corners shopping center, which has Kohl’s and Michaels. Construction would cost about $4.5 million.
The other alternative considered would take a similar route but be slightly longer, starting at Ahaluna Drive, going behind the same McEver Corners shopping center with a wider buffer, then connecting to McEver Road near Spring Road. That route would cost about $17.7 million and was found to be more efficient at saving drivers time at the intersection.
But after calculating the benefits and how much time drivers could save, then using a Georgia Department of Transportation method to weigh benefits against cost, it was determined that neither route would be worth the investment, Cote said.
“With other costs added in there, if you add in the right of way property acquisitions and utility costs, you’re going to have a greater number. … With all of that, we don’t see an alternate (route) being a good use of your resources,” Cote said.
Now, other alternatives are being considered, including a continuous flow intersection at McEver and Dawsonville Highway. That intersection would separate left-turn lanes by placing them before the main intersection, allowing people going straight to drive through the intersection at the same time as people turning left. A nearby example is where Dawsonville Highway, or Ga. 53, meets Ga. 400 in Dawson County near the North Georgia Premium Outlets.
Because both roads are state-owned, the Georgia Department of Transportation is studying a continuous flow intersection as a possibility.
“It would all depend on what their studies show about how efficient it would function and how well it would improve the overall traffic conditions of time delay,” Chris Rotalsky, Gainesville’s director of public works, said.
A continuous flow intersection would be in the distant future, though, with construction only starting in 2029 if the idea moves forward.
Improvements to the Green Hill Circle area could also help with traffic on Dawsonville Highway, Rotalsky said. Green Hill Circle, which goes past Chick-fil-A and winds behind Hollywood 15 Cinemas, could be connected more directly to Shallowford Road. Rotalsky said that project is in the design stages, and a design should be ready within about six months.
Inter-parcel connectivity — for example, linking the Home Depot parking lot to North Lake Square — is another possibility, Cote said Thursday.
Gainesville Police are also working on improving traffic at the intersection by focusing on educating drivers about the dangers of blocking an intersection and enforcing those rules, Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said. There were a total of 99 crashes at the intersection in 2018, and while the area sees more traffic during the holiday shopping season, April actually had the most crashes, with 12 that month, Holbrook said. December had nine.
Officials said that while the study’s findings may have been disappointing, they were glad they knew more information before moving forward with a solution that may not have been cost-effective.
“We had been excited about the potential of doing something there,” City Manager Bryan Lackey said. “We were disappointed in the study results, but the bad news is that GDOT is not going to put support behind something that has a negative cost benefit.”