ATLANTA – Projections released Friday by the Georgia Department of Transportation list $164 million in improvements designed to ease traffic flow and enhance safety on Ga. 316 but not enough to satisfy legislators.
The congestion and fatalities along Ga. 316 between Athens and Duluth have made improving the 40-mile highway a top priority for legislators from Clarke, Oconee, Barrow and Gwinnet counties. The legislative delegations from the three counties jointly backed a white paper this week listing reasons for making the road a limited-access highway its entire length so that intersecting roads would cross via an overpass.
“The critical infrastructure of (State Route) 316 has been ignored to the detriment of the economic interests of the region and the safety of its citizens and visitors,” said the paper dated Thursday.
Rep. Regina Quick, R-Athens, and Rep. Spencer Frye, D-Athens, had their staffs work together on the paper for presentation Thursday to the House Transportation Committee. It was timed for the committee’s vote on a 10-year plan required by last year’s road-funding bill. The committee ultimately approved the plan unanimously, but not before Rep. Valerie Clark, R-Lawrenceville, brought up the Ga. 316 concerns.
Now the plan goes to the House Appropriations Committee which must approve the department’s budget.
Quick said Friday she remains insistent that every intersection on the highway be upgraded.
“The citizens affected by 316 deserve results after a half-century of broken promises by GDOT. Transportation dollars should be focused on needs, not wants and selected projects should be based on identifiable criteria,” she said.
According to the paper, the origin of the highway was a decision in 1959 by then-Gov. Ernest Vandiver to divert the route of the planned Interstate 85 toward his home of Franklin County, a stretch that now bears his name. At the time, he promised equivalent access for Athens and Gainesville.
While Gainesville is connected to I-85 by I-985, the road to the Classic City is still dotted with intersections and stoplights. The paper details the 31 fatalities on Ga. 316 since it opened in 1995 and the roughly 600 crashes that occur in the average year.
So far, 5 miles of Ga. 316 in Gwinnett County are limited access.
The latest list from the Transportation Department includes 17 projects at intersections across all three counties over the next 10 years described as “interchange,” “ramp” and “grade separation” which are part of a limited-access design.
But Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, attended Thursday’s committee meeting and came away frustrated.
“Living in Lawrenceville, I’ve personally seen accidents and witnessed many close calls on Hwy 316,” he said. “I hope the House and Senate modify the DOT’s 10-year plan to make 316 completely limited access – not just portions of it as the plan currently does.”
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