Blank slate for Ga. 20 improvements

GDOT asks community’s input on 25-mile stretch

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CUMMING, Ga. – A major east and westbound traffic artery that connects Cherokee and Forsyth counties is looking for community input as potential improvements are underway.

The 24-mile stretch of Ga. 20, between Interstate 575 in Canton and Ga.400 in Cumming, has portions that can be a burden to motorists.

“Traffic is a problem out there, that’s no big surprise, but we’ve got numbers to back it up now,” said Karyn Matthews, project manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

But GDOT, with federal funds, wants to make traffic flow in the area.

Right now, 40 percent of the corridor has an unacceptable level of traffic congestion, and without any improvements, in 20 years, it’s estimated that 90 percent of the corridor will reach unacceptable levels, Matthews said.

Matthews said GDOT has worked on this corridor project for about a year. In 2007 and 2008, GDOT was looking at three independent projects along this corridor, and federal highway officials asked them to go back and do a single environmental document, the highest level of documentation.

“We don’t do a lot of those in Georgia,” Matthews said.

Everything was put on hold and the team has regrouped.

AECOM was brought in to do the environmental research and design for the project.

There’s no specific cost associated with the project because GDOT officials first want to solicit community input and later will determine a cost. And because the project needs to abide by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), impact of any improvements to social and natural environments must be considered.

“We want to know what the community thinks and put that with the data we have,” said Teri Pope a spokeswoman for GDOT. “It’s going to be an interactive process, coming back to the community three or four times over several years to determine what improvements will happen.”

Scott Gero, associate vice president of transportation for AECOM, said the process and the study of alternatives will be a long process. A detailed environmental analysis can take about five years.

Gero said improving congestion, reducing travel times and improving safety are the core goals of this project.

“From an engineering point of view, there’s a practical way to dealing with a specific problem, but how to maintain a community’s character is the challenge,” Gero said.

“What we want to do to reach out to the public is find out what is important for them as a community, and we want to recognize the characteristics of this roadway, this corridor and how can we, with our improvements, help you achieve what you’re trying to accomplish locally,” Gero said. “We want to accommodate a better corridor for through traffic, but we’re coming into the community and reaching out to the public to see what’s important to them and how we can accommodate that in our design and meet the local needs.”

Federal highway officials also have to approve the project before right-of-way purchasing can begin, and that can take several years.

It will be 10 years before construction can begin, Matthews said.

“Assuming there’s funds available,” Matthews said.

In addition to the public hearings, and online comments, GDOT officials will be out in the community soliciting input.

“We’re trying to get to people who don’t necessarily have Web access, through libraries and outdoor festivals coming up,” Matthews said.

JUST THE BEGINNING

Public participation is crucial, Pope said.

Two public meetings will take place, one on May 16 at Otwell Middle School, 605 Tribble Gap Road in Cumming, and another on May 21 at Calvary Baptist Church, 137 Hightower Road/Ga.369 in Ball Ground. Both meetings run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and are interactive, with a court reporter there and a Spanish language translator as well.

There’s no need to attend both meetings, as they will cover the same topics. Those unable to make it can visit www.tinyurl.com/sr20improvements for more information.

“This is the beginning stage,” said Pope.

Several levels of federal approval must be met throughout that process and the first step for GDOT to get the community’s approval is to get their input.

“The best transportation project matches federal laws, engineering standards with the community’s needs,” Pope said.

Pope said they are trying to determine what meets all three of the criteria.

Gero said gathering ideas is the first part of the process, which will be part of several public meetings.

“We’re trying to reach out in other ways to get a more broad audience,” Gero said.

So far, Gero said, there have been traffic counts to capture daily counts and then growth rate was applied to the region.

Gero has already identified some operational solutions to traffic.

“It’s likely we will have to have at least two lanes in each direction,” Gero said. “We’ll optimize the traffic signals that are close together to work in tandem and add turning lanes and those types of things.”

But there are still unknowns, such as how do users want to widen this road, as there are so many options, including raised medians or grassy ones. What speed do motorists want to travel? Does the community want sidewalks or bike lanes?

The project is expected to be completed and opened to the public sometime in 2022.

“We design the project to last 20 years from when it’s opened to the public,” Gero said. “We want this to handle the growth up to 2042.”

Visit www.tinyurl.com/sr20improvements for more information.