Opinions mixed on Ringgold Alabama Highway expansion

Opinions mixed on Ringgold Alabama Highway expansion

July 13th, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Cars cruise down Alabama Highway in Ringgold Georgia on Tuesday past debris and destruction left by a tornado in April. There are plans to widen Alabama Highway.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

A $32 million state project to widen a two-mile stretch of Alabama Highway in Ringgold, Ga., is getting mixed response from officials and business owners.

While the widened U.S. Highway 151 could help reduce traffic and attract new businesses to the area, several business owners question some of the proposed designs and worry the road will constrict customers' access.

The project, slated to begin in construction in 2013, will widen the road to four lanes, construct a concrete median and add sidewalks along the highway.

But one of the biggest questions raised at a Georgia Department of Transportation meeting Tuesday evening was why officials were planning to pour a concrete median, which would limit turn access for drivers.

"We feel like it could eventually hurt our business," Julia Scoggins, a franchise owner of the Hardee's in Ringgold, said during the meeting held in a building at Rollins Industrial Park.

Hardee's, which is located near the Interstate 75 north on-ramp, is one of several fast food restaurants that would be limited because drivers on the opposite side of the highway from their businesses would have make a U-turn at gaps in the median to reach them.

Plans for an expanded off-ramp also limit drivers' access to the McDonald's on the highway.

GDOT officials say they are working with business owners to solve any problems with the plans.

"We address every complaint," GDOT spokesman Mohamed Arafa said in a phone interview.

Most of the restaurants along the highway are in the process of rebuilding after the April 27 tornado destroyed or severely damaged their buildings.

Representatives at the meeting referred questions about the engineering plans to GDOT's project manager, Terry Rogers, who couldn't be reached on Tuesday.

Georgia Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, also questioned the designs, saying he had received several complaints.

"That's a problem," he said. "We've got to do better than that."

But Weldon and others agree that the widened road could help attract new businesses to the area.

"I'm happy to see it get started," said Jerry Hawthorne, who owns property along Alabama Highway. "It will help businesses in the long run."

At the meeting, GDOT representatives outlined the right-of-way they need to buy from property owners to expand the highway. Altogether, officials plan to buy rights-of-way on 75 properties, said Mick Workman, a GDOT representative.

The buildings will be appraised and bought at fair market value, but there will be some exceptions, Workman said. If the business is still being rebuilt after the storm, it can be appraised as if it were finished, he said.