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Side road slated for U.S. 78 corridor

bryan.brooks@gwinettdailypost.com

LAWRENCEVILLE - A parallel road that will let motorists stay off U.S. Highway 78 is included in a self-taxing district's spending plan for 2006.

A budget recently adopted by leaders of the Highway 78 Community Improvement District includes $750,000 for the project that in some places will use an existing side road to create the half-mile shortcut.

The extension of Paxton Lane will benefit the commercial corridor by letting drivers jump between shopping centers without having to navigate U.S. 78, said district Executive Director Brett Harrell.

"The Paxton Lane extension basically would permit someone to drive from just east of the Yellow River all the way to Killian Hill Road without having to get on 78," Harrell said.

Besides taking some vehicles off the busy highway, the project is important because the state in 2006 will install a concrete median on U.S. 78, limiting where people can make left turns into businesses.

Money for the roadwork is coming from $10.1 million in federal funds earmarked for the district by Congress. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Reps. John Linder and David Scott included the money in a massive federal highway bill this year at the district's request.

Construction of the side road, which will include sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian islands and landscaped buffers, should begin in late 2006, Harrell said. It will be done at the same time the state replaces U.S. 78's reversible lane system with a concrete median.

In some places the parallel road will run behind businesses, including two shopping centers anchored by a Publix and a Home Depot. In other places it will pass in front

of businesses within view of U.S. 78.

Overall, the budget approved by the district's board of directors stands at $11.8 million, but outside of the federal dollars, most of the money represents state and county transportation projects the district lobbied for.

The district included the project values in its budget to help show its almost 400 commercial property owners what their tax dollars are helping accomplish, Harrell said.

Revenue generated by the district's 5-mill tax levy is expected to make up about $900,000 of the 2006 budget - a roughly $50,000 increase from 2005.

The quasi-governmental district has a list of 62 improvement projects it wants to tackle in coming years, including decorative street lights and landscaping throughout the 7.5-mile corridor that stretches from Snellville to Stone Mountain.

The Highway 78 Community Improvement District became the county's first self-taxing district in 2003 when a majority of the commercial property owners agreed to tax themselves, with the district's board of directors using the revenue to make enhancements and help revitalize the commercial corridor.

Since then a similar district has been created in the Gwinnett Place Mall area, and businesspeople are working to start an improvement district in an unincorporated area between Norcross and Lilburn that they've dubbed Gwinnett

Village.