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What’s ahead for Spout Springs Road widening
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Autoworks owner Shawn McDonald works at his desk at his Spout Springs Road shop Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. McDonald is forced to garage, which is at the intersection of Spot Springs Road and Union Circle because of the Spout Springs widening project. Property along the road is currently being prepared with houses already removed or about to be removed. - photo by Scott Rogers

For 20 years, Shawn McDonald’s auto repair shop was in a prime location off Spout Springs Road and Union Circle in South Hall.

His business, Autoworks, benefited by the ever-increasing traffic on the road, sitting between booming Braselton and Flowery Branch.

But now it’s in the way of progress, and targeted for removal as Hall County moves forward to widen Spout Springs between Union Circle and Hog Mountain Road.

McDonald needs to clear out by March 4, and he’s not sure what’s next for him.

“Maybe get a job,” he said, laughing.

This could be the year widening starts in earnest on Spout Springs Road, as Hall County is finishing up right of way acquisition and pressing forward with removing houses, subdivision signs, fences and other structures where asphalt will need to be poured.

As of Jan. 23, 12 homes had been torn down, two had been scheduled for demolition and nine home purchases had been closed on between the county and property owner.

Property owners have 60 days after closing to clear out, said Denise Farr, a Hall civil engineer leading the right of way effort.

“It’s pretty quick,” she said of the process.

If asbestos is involved, “a demo crew goes out and does the (removal) part only,” Farr said. “The asbestos inspector goes back and checks to make sure all the asbestos has (removed) … and disposed of properly.”

Only then can bulldozers take down houses or other structures.

“About one in every six or seven homes (have asbestos),” Farr said. “Some of them are quite old.”

Another eight houses have been condemned — cases where a settlement couldn’t be reached between the county and property owner.

“Once the judge signs the order, then we have 60 days to let the folks evacuate,” Farr said.

“They might have an eviction notice after that 60 days,” added Ken Rearden, Hall’s public works and public utilities director. “We hope not to do that. We haven’t had to do it yet.”

Overall, the county is dealing with 166 parcels. Only three remain that are still in negotiations, “and we don’t think there’s going to be any problem (with those),” Farr said.

“The rest are either already demolished, sold or … condemned,” she added.

Also, 20 businesses, such as Autoworks, will be affected by the road’s right of way. The road will be widened from two to four lanes and have sidewalks/bike paths, medians and turn lanes.

“We’re trying to get this (acquisition) done by March, where we can bid (the project) in June,” Rearden said. “That’s the goal.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation “is prepared to advertise and award the project this summer, so we have funding awaiting in fiscal year 2020,” said Katie Strickland, DOT district spokeswoman.

The 2020 fiscal year starts July 1.

The project has been and will be an expensive endeavor. Construction costs are estimated at $36 million. Right of acquisition is costing $22.6 million and utilities relocation, $12 million.

The road project has been in the works for many years, with Hall County making some minor improvements — such as turn lanes — to help ease the traffic crunch.

But commercial development at either end of the road and residential development in between, including at the 1,000-acre Sterling on the Lake subdivision, have only brought more cars to the area. Also, Cherokee Bluff middle and high schools are off the road.

“The need for the project is tremendous,” County Engineer Kevin McInturff said. “We’re going to adjust the horizon and vertical alignment, so (the widened road) … will be a lot straighter and a lot smoother. And a lot safer — that’s the big thing. We’re going to have a lot better sight distance.”

Evelyn Swann, who lives in Quail’s Landing near Union Circle, said the project “is necessary.”

A longtime resident, she served as Flowery Branch city clerk from 1988 to 1998.

“Back then … the road would be clear — I’d hardly ever meet anybody at night — going back and forth from (City Council) meetings,” she said. “And now, you can hardly get on the road, no matter what time of the day, especially in the evenings. We pick our time to go to the grocery store as to when schools are (in session).”

Hall County is planning a second phase, which would extend the four-lane road from Union Circle to Thompson Mill Road in Braselton.

“We’re looking for funding for that,” Rearden said.

The second phase is a proposed project in the next special purpose local option sales tax program, or SPLOST VIII.

Officials are looking to put the sales tax — 1 additional cent per dollar — before voters Nov. 5, 2019. If approved, it would be in effect July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2026.

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