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Safer Road to the Mountains

Rabun County in Northeast Georgia has been a tourist destination since the late nineteenth century. High mountains, deep gorges, and beautiful waterfalls have drawn visitors, and when the railroad reached Tallulah Falls in 1882 and Clayton in 1905, the tourism boom was on.

Passenger rail service ended in 1946, but the desire of “flatlanders” to spend their summer weekends in the mountains and on the beautiful mountain lakes built by Georgia Power (Burton, Seed, Rabun, Tallulah, and Tugaloo) continued to grow through the decades. Georgia Trend magazine has estimated that the Rabun County population doubles for six to eight months of the year with tourists and second-home owners.

Highway 441, the primary road into the county from the south, was a winding two-lane highway. Accidents and fatalities were all too common, and the Georgia Department of Transportation sought to enhance safety and capacity.

Sunbelt Structures of Tucker won the bid to widen the road to four lanes with a grassy median for ten miles from Tallulah Gorge to Clayton. Sunbelt brought in Wright Brothers Construction to move the dirt with Cat equipment.

The work included eight bridges, twenty box culverts, and twenty reinforced earth walls.

“The most important thing we did,” says Sunbelt President Mike Williams, “was to create longer and safer sightlines. There had been terrible wrecks and many fatalities on the road through the years. Now it’s much easier for everybody to see everybody from longer distances. You’re not surprised by a curve or a dip, or coming up over a hill where somebody is passing. You have your two lanes and they have their two lanes.

“The Department of Transportation does a lot of work for safety reasons that people don’t realize until after the fact. We drive down the highway, and we feel safer.”

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