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Input sought on Hwy. 20 widening

Proposal involves stretch linking Cumming, Canton

POSTED: May 8, 2013 12:30 a.m.
 

As many as 32,000 cars travel between Canton and Cumming on Hwy. 20 every day.

And the Georgia Department of Transportation is hoping to hear from most of those motorists as it works to improve congestion along the bustling corridor.

“We are starting over,” said Teri Pope, a DOT spokeswoman. “We want you to hear that and help us figure out how to build it best now.”

In addition to online feedback, the department is holding two public information meetings next week to gather input about how best to improve the highway between Interstate 575 and Ga. 400 without negatively impacting the communities involved.

“We’re actually coming with blank aerial photography and saying what do you think needs to happen in the corridor,” Pope said. “This is a big look, looking at it regionally not just at the county line or at the city limits.”

The plan to widen and improve the highway actually began as three different projects in 2007. However, the department was asked to hold off on them so an environmental impact statement could be conducted for the entire 24-mile stretch.

Scott Gero, associate vice president of  AECOM, the firm hired to conduct the study, said the best-case-scenario is that improvements could be finished by 2022. And that’s without taking funding into account.

“We’re looking at a 10-year process to do the environmental document, design it and get ready to go to construction, then a couple of years to build it,” he said.

“There’s a lot of additional documentation we have to do and hoops we have to jump through which kind of lengthens our schedule out, but it also allows us to take a more methodical approach to how we go about this.”

Pope said the upcoming open houses — May 16 in Cumming and May 21 in Ball Ground — will be information-gathering sessions to see what commuters and residents want.

Details on preferences are encouraged, including sidewalks, bike lanes and whether it should be a high-speed highway or a community road with medians, Pope said.

“We’ll probably have to widen the road, most likely ... but how we widen it, there’s a lot of room for possibilities there and that’s the kind of thing we need the local public, the people that use the road, what are they looking for,” Gero said.

“How are we going to fit into their community and not mess with what they already know as being their community?”

The department also hopes to learn as much as possible about the existing route, including nearby historical landmarks, water sources, natural habitats and other environmental issues that could prevent future widening.

Project Manager Karyn Matthews said the more information acquired, the better the chances are that “we can keep it to a 10-year process instead of being six years in, finding out and having to go back to square one.”

The widening of the major east-west thoroughfare may jog memories of the Northern Arc project, an unpopular proposal to build a road connecting Interstates 75 and 85 that would have crossed Forsyth County.

This is not the same project, Gero said. But in planning for the failed Northern Arc, Gero said one of the biggest responses from the community was “why don’t you just widen Hwy. 20.”

“That’s why we’re here. We listened to that and now we’re back looking at Hwy. 20,” Gero said.

For those who can’t attend next week’s meeting in Cumming, the department has established its first MetroQuest survey.

“This MetroQuest survey, we hope, will be a great tool by asking the people non-engineering questions to get engineering facts back from them, so we get rid of the jargon, but still find out how they use the corridor and what their concerns are,” Pope said. “This really is above and beyond our typical outreach.”

 

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