“It is a big moment for Stephens County, but also for this northeast Georgia area,” said Stephens County Commissioner Dean Scarborough at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the beginning of work to widen Georgia Highway 17 from the Stephens County-Franklin County line to Memorial Drive in Toccoa to four lanes. “It is (also) a big moment for Highway 17 up and down the corridor. I know there are some communities down 17 that very much want to connect with the four-lane access just like we wanted to for many, many years.”
Officials from Stephens and surrounding counties, along with numerous state officials gathered for the groundbreaking at the Currahee Campus of North Georgia Technical College, which faces the future four-lane Highway 17.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal spoke at the groundbreaking.
He said a four-lane Highway 17 will improve accessibility to this part of the region, which he said is key to economic development.
“If you are going to have businesses, especially manufacturers, they need to have ready access to get their raw materials in and their finished products out,” said Deal. “This road will afford that to those who are currently here, and you already have several that are here and will benefit from this road being in existence, but it will also a magnet, in my opinion, to draw more industry and more manufacturers to this part of northeast Georgia.”
In addition, Governor Deal announced that Georgia Highway 17 has been placed on the state’s official “Freight Corridor Network,” which the State Transportation Board adopted last week.
Deal said the freight corridor network allows the state to prioritize projects on the network, such as this one, in order to funnel state transportation resources and funding to those projects without having to balance how much is spent in each of the state’s Congressional District, which is typically the case with transportation funding.
“I think that is altogether appropriate because there are projects that are very high in priority and many times, they are very expensive,” said Deal.
Georgia DOT Board Vice Chairman Don Grantham and North Georgia Tech President Dr. Gail Thaxton both echoed the governor’s sentiments regarding the road’s importance of economic development.
Dr. Thaxton also said Wednesday’s groundbreaking marks the culmination of many years of hard work by many people.
“It is a testimony to the vision and foresight of citizens from over 40 years ago who recognized a need in northeast Georgia and then worked as only northeast Georgians can do, and persevered and dreamed, until the project was approved and funded,” said Dr. Thaxton.
While Wednesday marked the official groundbreaking, work on the widening of Highway 17 started back in May.
When it is complete, Highway 17 will be four lanes along a 9.41-mile stretch of road from the Stephens-Franklin County line to Memorial Drive in Toccoa.
C.W. Matthews Contracting of Marietta is constructing the project at a cost of $66.2 million. In addition, the Georgia DOT spent $28 million on land acquisition for the project.
The whole project is scheduled to be finished by May 31, 2016.