Construction could begin in December on the first two sections of the Central Hall Multiuse Trail, a planned 14-mile paved path that eventually would loop between downtown Gainesville and the Oakwood/Gainesville State College area.
The first phase will run along Atlanta Highway between Palmour Drive and before Frontage Road.
"Once we get to the (state) Department of Labor, we will be installing a tunnel under Atlanta Highway," said Jody Woodall of Hall County engineering.
The second phase will run from the Department of Labor to Gainesville State College. A Hall County map shows future plans for that section of trail to continue across Mundy Mill Road to McEver Road in West Hall.
The project will involve going through Chicopee Village, meaning that a couple of the tall, historic oaks along Atlanta Highway face removal.
"We've designed the trail so it meanders around that front section (of Chicopee Village), around the trees, but I think there are a few (trees) that are diseased and would need to be taken out as more of a safety issue," Woodall said.
The plan would call for replanting some trees in that area.
"Chicopee Village is a historic area ... and that's something we have to work through in the design process," Woodall said. "... We definitely want to preserve the character of the village."
When completed, the trail will be 12 feet wide, which officials think should accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists traveling in both directions.
The tunnel under Atlanta Highway will basically be a box culvert that is about 10 feet tall by 10 feet wide. The distance from the road surface to the bottom of the culvert should be 12-13 feet.
"It will be long enough that, when the road is widened in the future, it would span the whole four-lane divided section," Woodall said.
Phase one, including the tunnel, is expected to cost $2.75 million and phase two should cost about $315,000.
The state's Transportation Enhancement program and the Federal High Priority Project fund are paying for the bulk of costs for both phases and the tunnel. Hall's portion, or about $500,000, is coming from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes.
Much work is still needed to get the project to construction.
Design work is continuing, as well as work on environmental documents. Right-of-way acquisition is expected to wrap up later in the year.
However, "the right of way is very minimal and most of the parcels are on Hall County or DOT (property)," Woodall said.
The Central Hall system has other proposed routes, including a "greenway connector" traveling north on McEver Road and 4.47-mile Flat Creek route.
Gainesville officials are exploring options to connect the planned Central Hall County trail to the south end of the city's planned greenway near Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.
The Central Hall trail has the eager support of at least one area bicyclist, Steve McNeilly of ISI Cycling.
"I think it's a fantastic idea for a number of reasons," he said. "It's providing people who are afraid to get out on the roads or mountain bike trails a good means of being able to get out and get regular exercise."
And for avid cyclists who ride much longer distances, "folks can ramp up and train to get to the level where they can do a 50- or 60-mile ride," McNeilly said.