Traveling through the center of McDuffie County North and South should become an easier route years down the road.
The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to widen Georgia Hwy. 17/U.S. 1 from Habersham County to the Florida state line, including the portion that runs the length of McDuffie County.
The plans are part of the Governor's Road Improvement Program (GRIP). According to DOT officials, the state funded project will improve the safety of Hwy. 17 in McDuffie. But that's not the only benefit for which officials are hoping.
"It will provide opportunities for growth, for economic development and also provide an effective and efficient transportation system," said George Brewer, DOT preconstruction engineer for the Tennille District.
Mr. Brewer said construction on a section north of Interstate 20 is scheduled to begin in 2009 with right of way purchasing taking place in 2008. A 44-foot grass median will be installed in the section that extends North from the Hwy. 43 intersection -- where the road is already five lanes -- to the Washington Bypass.
Plans for the Washington Road section of Hwy. 17 between Harrison Road and Dallas Drive include a 20 foot median and turn lanes for access to side roads. That project, which is not part of GRIP, currently remains unfunded according to Mr. Brewer.
It is in the DOT's long range planning category, which means it is at least six years away from any action. But Mr. Brewer said the reason for widening Washington Road is a safety issue.
"We think that would improve the safety quite a bit in that area," Mr. Brewer said.
"What we've had is some people thinking there was a turn lane there. They go out and think they're going to be able to get in a suicide-type lane and turn left," County Commission Chair Charlie Newton said. "With all the traffic, it's caused some accidents."
Local opinions are mixed on the idea. Officials think the median and turn lanes should decrease the number of accidents in the area. Some restaurant, hotel and store owners fear it will have a negative impact on their business because people have a tendency to drive past instead of turning around in the curb cut to access a business.
"We will work very closely with the DOT to make sure they're not going to impact our businesses out there," Mr. Newton said. "Our concern obviously is to keep our businesses viable, but at the same time DOT has a concern for safety."
Hwy. 17 through the center of Thomson is not part of the widening project because of the historical buildings in close proximity to the road. But Mr. Brewer said the bypass should remove some of the truck traffic that causes problems in the center of town.
Also, the section of Hwy. 17 South of Thomson toward Wrens is scheduled for right of way purchasing in 2009, according to Mr. Brewer. Construction is still more than six years away, he said.