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Referendum nears

Dawson County projects aim to ease busy Ga. 400/Hwy. 53

POSTED: June 20, 2012 4:00 a.m.
Tom Reed DCN regional staff/

Larry Taffar, chairman of the Lumpkin Campground Trustees, talks about the effect of widening Lumpkin Campground Road on the historic campground in Dawson County. Traffic passes by on the right on the current road.

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Larry Taffar has more than just a little vested interest in Dawson County's Lumpkin Campground Road.

He is chairman of Lumpkin Campground Trustees, attends Bethel United Methodist Church across the road and tends to the church cemetery that faces the road. He also lives off the road.

If the Georgia Mountains region's 1 percent transportation sales tax passes July 31, one of the projects calls for widening Lumpkin Campground Road from two to four lanes from Dawson Forest Road to Ga. 400.

That means a squeeze between the historic campground and the cemetery, which are also near the busy Hwy. 53.

"It is a concern," Taffar said. "I don't know a lot about [the project]. The only thing I've been told about it is just hearsay stuff.

"But if they widen the road through there, they would have to go on the campground. I don't think they could go in the cemetery very much."

The transportation tax would pay for the $11 million project, as well as three other regional projects in Dawson: A roundabout at Dawson Forest Road and Hwy. 9, extending the Dawson Forest Road East Bypass from Hwy. 53 to Harmony Church Road and replacement of the Old Hwy. 224 bridge.

Combined, the projects would cost $33.3 million, based on 2011 dollars, and their completion would be scattered over the 10-year life of the sales tax.

Dawson County is part of the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, which is one of 12 designated regions throughout Georgia that will vote on whether to raise the sales tax an additional percent to pay for transportation improvements.

And Dawson will go a long way in helping pay for the regional projects, with the commercial development, including North Georgia Premium Outlets, that has sprung up along busy Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53.

The Lumpkin Campground project would help relieve congestion on Ga. 400 by allowing motorists to reach the rear of the mall, as Lumpkin Campground runs largely parallel to Ga. 400.

As part of the project, lanes either could be added to the existing roundabout at Lumpkin Campground and Dawson Forest Road or Dawson Forest Road would jut off a rebuilt intersection of the two roads, County Engineer Corey Gutherie said.

Regardless, the project "would redesign the road system so that if you're [traveling north] on Ga. 400 and you wanted to get around Ga. 53, or at least that intersection, you would take a left onto that realigned road and just stay on it as it would arc northward around the outlet mall," Gutherie said.

Taffar, who lives across from the mall, said he would expect more traffic - and more speeding - with the improvements.

As for the tax itself, "I don't know that much about it to say at this point whether I'd be willing to support it."

However, "I would not support any move that would create problems for the future of the campground," which was founded in 1830, before Dawson County was established, Taffar said.

David Headley, director of public works and community development, said that "some of the [cemetery's] graves are in the right of way, so if we were to slightly shift that right of way ... it would basically affect the area around the [campground] sign."

The road "wouldn't get into the campground itself, but there would be some minor impact up on the right of way," he said.

Another road project expected to benefit the Ga. 400/Hwy. 53 area is the fourth link in the Dawson Forest Road East Bypass, which would travel from Hwy. 53 to Harmony Church Road.

"It will increase safety for motorists on the northeast segment, improve safety for residents using Kilough Church Road and improve access to two churches and an elementary school," states a Web site set up describing Dawson's sales tax projects.

Linda Williams, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, said that overall, she believes the tax "is a great way for local people to generate money locally and make their own decisions on how it's going to be used."

For Dawson County, "It's a real plus, because so much of our sales tax is generated by visitors at the outlet mall," she added. "We appreciate the tourism aspect to it, with all these people coming here to shop."

Williams said she hopes the road projects will help spur development in several areas.

"We need to get some of that development off Ga. 400," she said.

 

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