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CFI flowing smoothly, officials say
A-CFI follow up pic 1
A flashing sign on Hwy. 53 alerts drivers to the presence of the new traffic pattern. - photo by Allie Dean

The first two weeks of operation of Dawsonville's new continuous flow intersection have been smooth sailing, according to county and state officials.

The much-anticipated May 15 changeover came and went without the expected pile-ups and wrecks between confused residents and even more confused out-of-towners.

Instead, the CFI at Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400, the first of its kind in Georgia, has been operating with what Sheriff Jeff Johnson calls "minimal issues."

Only one accident was reported at the intersection within the first 24 hours of the new traffic flow, and Johnson reported no additional accidents as of press time.

"It seems as though people are slowing down and being very cautious," Johnson said. "It's like anything new, it just takes time to get accustomed to the changes. We will always encourage our drivers to drive defensively - always being mindful of and watching out for other drivers."

The Georgia Department of Transportation, which built the intersection, reported few hiccups with the initial change of the traditional traffic flow to the multi-phase diverted left turn intersection.

Workers began making the switch around 10 p.m. May 15, and completed the transition by 3 a.m. May 16.

GDOT District One Communications Officer Katie Strickland said teams worked overnight in order to safely transition traffic and remove striping and the former left turn signal equipment from the main intersection.

"We are still working to make sure the signal timing is allowing the left turners onto Hwy. 53 without coming to a complete stop at the second set of signals," Strickland said. "So far it's working the way it should and citizens have made the adjustment."

But some citizens are having trouble with the change.

Business owners around the CFI, long skeptical of the new traffic pattern and how it will affect sales, had only negative things to say about the intersection.

Peggy Swanson, a manager at Big D's, has worked at the Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53 location for eight years and says the CFI has taken a lot of the BBQ joint's business.

"We didn't need this," Swanson said. "They told us they were getting rid of the red lights...‘continuous flow'...looks like Christmas every morning at 5 o'clock with blinking lights. I just don't think we needed it here and I'm not the only one who feels this way; most of Dawsonville feels this way."

Swanson lamented the fact that a lot of neighboring businesses have relocated farther south on Ga. 400. She wouldn't say whether the store owner has thought about moving the business elsewhere, though the construction took one of the restaurant's driveways away.

"I hope that our customers are faithful enough that they'll find a way in here to get to us because we do have good food here and I just hope that it stays where people can get in here," Swanson.

Among the stores that have moved south on Ga. 400 since the construction started, Kroger left its home of nearly 20 years at the northwest corner of the intersection and moved to an expanded location south of the North Georgia Premium Outlets.

Taco Bell and Wendy's are building new restaurants near the Kroger Marketplace, and Domino's recently left the old Kroger center.

Employees at the United Community Bank branch located across the intersection from Big D's said they've heard nothing but complaints from customers.

"A lot of our customers say they aren't happy with it, it's making it much harder to patronize the businesses down here," said President James Askew. "For example, if you're at this bank and want to get to Krystal, how are you going to get there? It's making our area less safe."

The construction removed an egress between the bank and McDonald's, meaning that drivers routinely attempt to turn right onto Hwy. 53 through an entrance and find a "do not enter" sign. Askew said drivers then turn and speed through the bank's front parking lot to get to the entrance next to the Goodwill, across from Burger King.

United Community has purchased a lot at the Dawson Marketplace shopping center, but Askew said they are unsure if they will move there.

"We had to have a plan B," Askew said.

Many of those who frequent the 400 corridor say they avoid the intersection altogether.

Megan Justice, 24, and Joseph Rodriguez, 29, both retail workers at the outlet mall, say they avoid the intersection going to and from work.

They live in Dahlonega.

"I avoid it completely," Justice said. "We just take Lumpkin Campground Road from the gas station at Ga. 400 [and Harmony Church Road], we usually just slip down that back road."
Rodriguez said the only people he could see benefiting from the CFI are those that travel straight through.

"Even if we're not going to work, we go to Kroger the back way, cut down the Walmart side road," Rodriguez said. "The sooner we can get off Ga. 400 the better, usually."

Neither thought the intersection was planned well.

"There are still a lot of problems that aren't addressed when they started installing this CFI," Rodriguez said. "The roundabouts have been a little difficult for some people, so I was interested to see how this works. It's working well, but traffic at the Lumpkin Campground light builds up now."

Public Works Director David McKee said recently that the county will begin working to fix the traffic at Lumpkin Campground once construction at the CFI is finished.

In the meantime officials have been working to clear up some of the more confusing aspects of the intersection to help drivers feel safer.

Last week the Dawson County Sheriff's Office posted information about the new merge lanes onto Ga. 400 northbound and southbound, and the oft-asked question of whether vehicles can turn right after stopping at the red light.

"Georgia Law does allow for vehicles to ‘cautiously enter the intersection to make a right turn' after stopping at a circular red signal, as is the case at the new merge lanes," the post read. "After conferring with GDOT officials, it is determined that this will remain the operation for the interim. Ongoing evaluation of the operation and safety of the intersection will continually be monitored."

Though the traffic switch has been made, final details are still being worked on.
Drivers will see barrels and cones around work zone areas near the intersection until mid-June, Strickland said.