FLOWERY BRANCH -- After over a year of meetings, forming committees and planning, officials may finally have found the plan to minimize the impact of the upcoming I-985 exit on the residential Martin Road corridor.
The last of three public meetings was held Tuesday afternoon at the Mulberry Creek Community Center where members of the Gainesville Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization presented what they called the "preferred alternative" for Martin Road improvements. Nearly every resident in attendance voted it as the best of the options in a show of hands vote.
The plan, called "Alternative 7," would see several stop signs along the road, as well as signs indicating no tractor-trailer traffic allowed on the road. Also proposed in the plan is a roundabout being built at the intersection of Martin Road and J.M. Turk Road, which sits less than half of a mile away from where the new exit is set to be built.
The plan is a far cry from the GHMPO's original proposal, that is still currently in the organization's long-term agenda but is now expected to be removed, which would see Martin Road widened, creating a pipeline connecting I-985 and Highway 53.
Debra Simental lives on Martin Road and has been a member of the Martin Road Stakeholders Committee, and she said the new alternative addresses most of her concerns.
"We wanted to keep it a two-lane community, not just a pass-through," Simental said. "It's going to make us look more like a community, and if they get that roundabout in there, the truckers are not going to like that."
Several GHMPO members said the truck traffic was one of the main concerns residents had expressed to them. Hall County Commission Chairman Richard Higgins was in attendance, and he said he believes the steps being proposed would be able to deter that traffic.
"I was in the trucking business," Higgins said. "If you (post 'no thru traffic' signs) constantly, you'll deter trucks from going through there because whoever's behind that wheel, if he gets caught going through there, it's going to come out of his pocket, not his company's."
Both community members and officials said the meeting was much smoother than previous discussions of the issue.
After the plans were revealed at an open house in March of 2016, signs were posted on the roadside along the entire road reading "Stop Exit 14". Residents kept fighting, coming to several meetings and even making pleas to the Hall County Commission. Steve Wentz lives just across from Martin Road in the nearby Royal Lakes subdivision and he said the ongoing efforts by the community and governments have been good to see.
"I am so encouraged by seeing how local government actually works, and it really does work," Wentz said. "You see so much about federal government and all the issues that are bothering people and here we are in the local communities with people who are doing really tough work, but they're doing it on our behalf."
"It is like night and day," Simental said, comparing the third meeting to the first. "When we first saw that they were willing to take Martin Road off of the freight corridor and never put it back on again and turn that into an actual community road, it gave us a sigh of relief."
Officials said if the plan is approved by a number of committees, the first stop signs could be put up in as little as three to six months. GHMPO Director Sam Baker said the goal is to have the majority of the work done before the new interchange is completed. Work on that project, which is being done by the Georgia DOT, is set to begin in July.
Hall County Commissioners Billy Powell and Kathy Cooper were also in attendance at the meeting, as well as District 30 State Representative Emory Dunahoo.