The Georgia Department of Transportation announced plans today to turn Prince Avenue into a 12-lane expressway.
The $100 million project is in response to metro Atlanta residents' complaints about gameday traffic in Athens, Gov. Nathan Deal said in a news release. It is scheduled to open in time for the 2015 season.
"University of Georgia fans deserve unimpeded access to Sanford Stadium to see their beloved Bulldogs win on Saturdays," Deal said. "This is just another example of how the DOT is putting pavement on the ground to get Georgians moving."
A new tea party group, Suburbanites for SUVs, recently cropped up pushing for more spending on roads, paid for by massive cuts to K-12 public education.
Deal's Democratic opponent, Jason Carter, quickly endorsed the plan. "Since he voted in favor of guns in bars, too, maybe now conservatives will finally stop comparing him to his namby-pamby granddad," said one Carter staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
On the GOP side, primary challenger and School Superintendent John Barge criticized the diversion of money from education, while Dalton Mayor David Pennington said UGA should move to the fans, not vice versa. "I have been pushing UGA to build a new stadium on the Northside [of Atlanta] for years," Pennington said. "But the taxpayers sure as heck shouldn't pay for it. We need that money for our pro sports teams."
Mayor Nancy Denson said she will wait until after a June 10 work session on Prince Avenue to decide whether to support the plan, but she is optimistic it will bring growth and jobs to Athens. Part of the work session will now involved widening the locally owned portion of Prince between downtown and Milledge Avenue, where state ownership ends, she said.
"As you know, I've been the economic development mayor," Denson said. "This could really open up the west side of Athens for new industry and new jobs."
Already, one major employer has approached her about rezoning land near the future Oglethorpe Avenue interchange for a factory, she said.
That land will be opened because GDOT intends to use eminent domain to raze Normaltown storefronts. Athens Regional Medical Center will be spared, as the department plans to route the freeway north through the Boulevard neighborhood to avoid the hospital.
One Normaltown business owner, Normal Bar's Bain Mattox, said he is already talking to Epps Bridge Centre in Oconee County about leasing space there.
Complete Streets: Prince Avenue released a statement opposing the plan, and neighborhood leader Tony Eubanks said the group is working on a counter-proposal that would block vehicular access to Prince Avenue entirely, replacing the car lanes with eight bike lanes.
"This is just more of the same outdated auto-centric development," Eubanks said. "Instead of widening Prince, GDOT should be adding bike lanes to 316 so people can bike in from Gwinnett County."
Editor's note: Haha, April Fool's!