IF YOU GO
What: Open house to discuss possible routes for proposed State Route 5 improvements and the McCaysville bypass
When: 4-7 p.m. Thursday
• Fannin County Middle School, 4560 Old Highway 76, Blue Ridge, Ga.
• First Baptist Church of McCaysville, 104 Toccoa Ave.
For more information: http://tinyurl.com/bnrak7u
The public will get its first look at three possible routes for a proposed bypass around McCaysville, Ga., and ideas to improve the area's main north-south travel route on Thursday, Georgia transportation planners say.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has scheduled open-house meetings in McCaysville and Blue Ridge, Ga., project manager Kimberly Nesbitt said.
"We would really like the public to come out and give their input," she said.
The project calls for widening and improving state Route 5 from Blue Ridge to just south of McCaysville, where a bypass would be built around the west side of town. The bypass would cross the Ocoee/Toccoa River on a new bridge and connect with Tennessee Highway 68 in Copperhill, Tenn.
"The locals will tell you they've been told this project has been coming for decades," Nesbitt said.
Or, as McCaysville Mayor Bud Finch said Friday, "I'm 82 years old and they've been talking this all my life."
Mary Jo Dickey, who owns the Cider House Cafe in McCaysville, said Friday that residents "think it would be a wonderful thing for this area up here."
"The majority of people in this area, even though they do live in Georgia, they do use Chattanooga and Cleveland hospital facilities. We go to Cleveland to shop for clothes," she said. "And it would just really open up tourism up here."
Nesbitt said the public will see three options for a McCaysville bypass. The idea is to gain consensus and eventually select a preferred route that then would undergo an environmental study.
The state is aiming for construction in 2017, but there's a snag, Nesbitt said. Because the bypass would go into Tennessee, that state needs to be on board.
And it isn't.
"The project you're talking about is not on our radar at all," Tennessee Department of Transportation Region 2 spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said Friday.
Without Tennessee, the bypass won't get approval from the Federal Highway Administration, Nesbitt said.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who lives in Blue Ridge, said Friday he's "a little surprised" that Georgia transportation planners haven't already reached across the state line.
"I think GDOT needs to sit down sooner rather than later with their counterparts in Tennessee and bring them up to speed on where we are on the McCaysville bypass," he said.
Ralston called SR 5 between Blue Ridge and McCaysville "one of the most congested two-lane roads in all of North Georgia," and said the highway improvements and bypass are important for safety and economic development.
"This project has had strong local support since the 1980s," he said. "I'm confident we'll get there."
The existing SR 5 is a narrow, shoulderless road that twists and turns through mountainous territory. Everything from ambulances to log trucks must cross the antique steel, two-lane bridge across the river and through Copperhill, Tenn., to reach Highway 68.
In May, a log truck lost its brakes on the McCaysville side of the river and plunged through downtown Copperhill. It finally crashed into the embankment supporting rails used by a popular tourist train and dumped its cargo of logs across the parking lot of an IGA grocery.
"Anything they can do to not only widen the road but decrease the grades on those hills, that would be an improvement," said Alexander Altman, CEO of the Copper Basin Medical Center.
He said the work would "help anyone using this hospital that was in North Georgia or McCaysville."
About 30 percent of the hospital's 130 employees live in Georgia, he said.