State transportation officials are now saying changes to the county's busiest crossing will begin early next year.
Robert Murphy, project manager for the continuous flow intersection at Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400, outlined the plan that is designed to move left-turning vehicles out of traffic's main flow by using a series of access roads and longer left-turn lanes, during the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon Thursday.
Described as the most economic option at an estimated $13 million, the plan would not displace any businesses along the busy corridor, a concept that brought questions from those in attendance.
Darin Muenchow, owner of Big D's Barbecue, said he was concerned the changes could block customers from getting to the various restaurants and gas stations located on the corners.
"I believe this is going to decimate most of the businesses on this corner within the first 4 years," Muenchow said. "It's proven human nature, we usually don't go way out of our way to get somewhere no matter how bad we want it, especially if we aren't familiar with the area like most vacationers and day trip drivers to the mountains."
According to a video Murphy showed during the presentation, motorists traveling on Ga. 400 would follow traffic signaling devices directing them to drive across the oncoming lanes into new lanes on the far left side of the road. Another left-turn signal then will prompt drivers to complete the left turn on Hwy. 53.
Essentially, Hwy. 53 would "continue to operate like it does now," Murphy said.
Officials have said the design will allow more traffic through the intersection, improve visibility and lower pollution by thinning congestion. It's also less expensive than previous design ideas.
Initially, there were talks of constructing a $130 million overpass at Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400, a concept that Murphy said "would have destroyed all the businesses in that area."
Construction is expected to take 18 months to complete and would be staged so as not to disrupt traffic.
"There will be no detour. There will be some congestion on SR 53 temporarily," Murphy said.
Murphy also briefly talked about two bridge replacement projects for Dawson County in the coming months that could also present traffic problems for drivers.
The DOT has already announced plans to replace the bridges over the Etowah River on Hwy. 136 and on a second on Hwy. 9 South, both of which are currently operational but with failing grades in accordance to state ratings.
While the bridge on Hwy. 9 will not require the state road to close during the realignment, drivers will not be able to access the bridge on Hwy. 136 during construction, which is set to coincide with the construction of the continuous flow intersection at Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400.
Tammy Wood, who lives on Hwy. 136 near its intersection with Hwy. 9, said the overlap of projects would present a "nightmare" for drivers.
"If you could sit at my house and see how much traffic uses 136, cars, truck, tractor trailers, and then you're going to send all that traffic over to Hwy. 53, which is already going to be congested because it's going to be a construction zone, that's going to be nightmare," she said.