I-85 lane pushed to ease woes

DULUTH - If Gwinnett Place businessmen had their way, an exit ramp would lead directly from Interstate 85 to Gwinnett Place Mall.

That's not possible, but they are kicking around plans for the next best thing.

The state Department of Transportation intends to add access roads to both sides of I-85, and a "slip lane" proposed by the Gwinnett Place boosters would provide direct access from the southbound lane to the mall property.

They say the addition would let motorists bypass Pleasant Hill Road, taking some traffic pressure of the congested thoroughfare where vehicles stack up as they approach the overpass.

"That's targeted as one of our big projects," said Mark Williams, a board member of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District.

Created last year, the district taxes its commercial property owners and uses the revenue for improvements such as landscaping and litter removal.

Such districts can also use their funds to get state and federal grants and to speed up local and state transportation projects, bringing new roads, sidewalks and synchronized traffic lights to their areas.

Last year, a self-taxing district along the U.S. Highway 78 commercial corridor got Congress to allocate $10.1 million for upgrades to that roadway between Snellville and Stone Mountain.

On Wednesday, the Gwinnett Place district's board of directors talked up Rep. John Linder, whose district includes the Duluth-area business center.

Linder said the slip road "is a great idea," but he seemed leery of earmarking funds for any CID project in future federal spending bills.

The Duluth Republican said he thinks Congress is about to curb the practice of legislators putting pet projects in federal spending plans - a practice critics call pork-barrel spending.

"I think we've gotten out of hand earmarking things for local communities," Linder said.

He did pledge to help the Gwinnett Place district find grant money, which would require matching funds from the district.

"People who are willing to put up their own money are looked upon favorably" by grant programs, Linder said.

The interstate access roads will be built when the state DOT overhauls the I-85/Ga. Highway 316 interchange, starting this year.

The slip lane would let motorists on the southbound access road drive directly into the mall - probably onto Ring Road - without exiting at Pleasant Hill Road and doubling back.

An empty movie theater between Ring Road and the interstate could be torn down to make way for the lane, the board said.