WEST FORSYTH — A years-long study into how best to improve the Hwy. 20 corridor between Canton and Cumming appears to have concluded, garnered state funding and could begin as early as this winter, officials announced Tuesday.
Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said the project can advance through funding from the state’s Transportation Funding Act of 2015, with a finalized blueprint of expanding the existing road instead of creating bypasses or an entirely new route.
In 2012, the DOT started re-examining the effort as one project to improve mobility and improve safety along the heavily commuted 24-mile expanse. The process had begun in 2007 as three separate projects that would start as federal funding became available.
If dependent on federal funding, construction was not expected to begin until at least 2022. Now, design work is expected to begin in January.
Federal regulations required the state to consider three alternatives in an environmental process, which stirred concern among residents, according to Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the state department.
Five possible routes for a Cumming bypass on the east-west thoroughfare were scrapped after two September open houses.
In a statement, McMurry said officials “heard the community’s outcry for this crucial project and the desire for it to remain on the existing roadway.”
“This project is a perfect example of the positive impact that using state funds has over federal funding for projects such as this,” he said. “We are thankful to the governor and the legislature for their support of reduced dependency on federal funding to address Georgia’s transportation needs.”
The project will be broken into six concurrently designed segments in “an effort to advance the much-needed relief to the corridor.”
The segments are:
* Interstate 575 in Canton to Scott Road
* Scott Road to Union Hill Road (the Buffington community)
* Union Hill Road to E. Cherokee Drive (the Macedonia community)
* E. Cherokee Drive to Hwy. 369
* Hwy. 369 to Hwy. 371/Post Road
* Hwy. 371/Post Road to the existing four-lane road in Cumming
The Transportation Funding Act was passed in the 2015 Georgia General Assembly, with former District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming a leading voice in its drafting.
State Sen. Michael Williams, who represents the vast majority of Forsyth County in District 27, said he is grateful the project is moving forward with state funding instead of federal dollars.
“[The highway] is an important corridor not only for people trying to safely get to and from work, but also for businesses moving their goods,” Williams said.
Though the state DOT no longer has to wait for the environmental impact study to be completed to receive federal funding, the department said it will continue to “work diligently to ensure that possible environmental impacts are avoided, minimized and/or mitigated and to minimize property impacts. As the project moves ahead, the communities in and around the corridor will be kept informed of its progress.”
As the news spread Tuesday afternoon, Forsyth County commissioners praised the plan during their work session.
“The state has agreed to widen Hwy. 20 from Canton to Cumming four lanes, staying where it is with no bypasses, straightening a few curves out, and with all state money,” said Commission Chairman Pete Amos.
“They’re going to do it in six phases and proceed as quick as they can, so that’s a welcome thing for Forsyth County.”
Staff writer Kelly Whitmire contributed to this report.