JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — After an hour of contentious discussion, the Johns Creek City Council unanimously approved a resolution that asks the state to maintain 12-foot lane widths along Medlock Bridge Road.
The resolution counters a request made earlier this year by the Johns Creek Public Works Department asking that the Georgia Department of Transportation reduce lane widths from 12 feet to 11 feet along the road, also known as Ga. 141, as part of the state’s regular repaving.
The City Council was not made aware of the reconfiguration request until a July 22 meeting, the week resurfacing work was set to begin.
In that meeting and the following Aug. 5 council session, the entire City Council expressed frustration that they had not been notified about the request sooner or approved it to begin with.
However, at that time, Mayor Mike Bodker said he could be upset with the process and still agree with the outcome and urged the council to consider 11-foot lanes on their own merits.
The Public Works Department had proposed that a wider shoulder would create a number of safety benefits: more space to maneuver if drivers need to avoid an accident, a place to pull over if their car breaks down and more space for emergency vehicles to navigate traffic.
The Public Works Department also planned to request that GDOT lower the speed limit from 55 to 45 mph along the road, which could further improve safety, but would be unlikely to be approved without some change to the road.
Councilman John Bradberry opposed 11-foot lanes from the beginning, and by the end of Monday night, the other council members had all signed onto a modified version of a resolution asking GDOT to repave the road with 12-foot lanes.
A notable crowd turned up Aug. 19 in opposition to the lane-width reduction, and Councilman Lenny Zaprowski said he received around 60 emails on the subject. A dozen Johns Creek residents spoke against 11-foot lanes during public comment.
“The residents of Johns Creek should not have to worry about having the last two miles home be the most stressful of their commute,” said resident Ernest Moosa. “No one has talked about why the 11-foot lanes are safer than the 12-foot lanes. It’s because it creates a great level of anxiety and you as a driver now have to pay even more attention to everything going on.”
Several speakers expressed fear that the lane-width reduction would be a “backdoor” or “Trojan horse” for widening Medlock to six lanes — a notion promoted by Bradberry.
“I have been fatigued that it seems like we are constantly playing a game of defense,” Bradberry said. “Why can we not move forward as a community to do some of the things that other communities are doing that would truly add value to our quality of life? Instead, we’re on the defense and we’re just trying to hold the line against things that are not in our best interest.”
The City Council has taken the position that it will not consider adding a lane to Medlock Bridge until it settles on a long-term solution for the intersection with State Bridge Road and coordinated plans with Forsyth and Gwinnett Counties.
Some council members have suggested they would oppose adding a lane on Medlock even if those other factors were addressed. The council has mostly tried to ignore the elephant in the room: that widening Medlock Bridge to six lanes is a Tier 1 TSPLOST project voted on and approved by residents.
Voters, though by a narrow margin, approved the project as part of the transportation sales tax referendum in 2016. According to the city attorney and a courtesy review by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, the city is legally required to complete the projects funded by TSPLOST unless they are determined to meet the legal definition of “infeasible.”
At the Aug. 19 meeting, Bradberry presented a document dated April 10 that suggests Public Works personnel may have had that widening project on their minds when they proposed the lane-width reduction.
The memo, which Public Works Director Lynette Baker identified as a draft of the request that the city later filed with GDOT, reads:
“The narrowed lanes would allow for development of a future travel lane in each direction with minimal impacts to property or utilities.”
This language was not included in the final request submitted to GDOT in May, Baker said.
“We’re not trying to get away with anything,” Baker said. “That’s the bottom-line tonight. There is nothing that we’re trying to do. The request was made because originally the residents had asked us, the council had asked us, to look at ways to reduce the speed limit.”
While the mayor and council members Steve Broadbent and Jay Lin indicated that they initially planned to support 11-foot lanes for safety and speed limit reduction, all joined Bradberry in light of the unearthed document.
“I was ready to support lane-width reduction with the end goal of speed-reduction until some new information was presented,” Lin said. “I was very disappointed seeing this.”
Although combative exchanges among council members is nothing new, dissension and mistrust seemed to reach new heights at the meeting.
“Decorum in this room tonight has been abysmal,” Bodker said.
“Staff has been vilified,” Bodker continued. “We have sat here from this dais, and I think anyone with sound reasoning would say that staff was vilified. I don’t believe that our staff are villains. I believe our staff are trying to reflect to the best of their ability — there may be exceptions in history — to the best of their ability the will of this community and the will of council.”