There were a lot of people and a lot of opinions filling Otwell Middle School for an information meeting on improvements to a heavily traveled state highway Monday night.
The first of two public meetings this month on the widening of Canton Highway (Hwy. 20 west) between Cumming and Canton along its existing route from I-575 in Canton to just west of downtown Cumming was held for the community to look at plans and changes made since previous open houses in December.
Scott Higley, director of statewide communications for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the meeting was not required in the process but that the department wanted to get more public input.
“In May, these two meetings that we are holding are not part of our required process, but it’s part of our desire to stay transparent, show the progress we’ve made toward improvements on this local corridor and really just continue to engage with the community,” Higley said.
During the meeting, attendees could speak with GDOT officials, fill out comments and look at maps and plans on display.
About 130 people had signed in within the first 30 minutes of the open house, which took over the school’s cafeteria on Tribble Gap Road.
Higley said responses from the December meeting were “overwhelmingly” supportive of the overall plan, though many had concerns for various areas.
“We’re really down to kind of the details of this particular project,” he said. “What we’re really focused on now is types of turn lanes and number of lanes and improvements to very specific areas, so we’re really beginning to nail down a lot of the detail to the project.”
Among the largest of the proposed changes are the widening of the road to six lanes, the re-routing of certain roads and the removal of many left turns in favor of R-cuts, which officials have said are safer than the alternative.
An R-cut, also called a Michigan left, is a design requiring any traffic entering the highway to turn right and then enter a u-turn.
Farid Moghaddam, whose medical business is just off Canton Highway, said he generally supports the plan and likes the increased access on the road but has concerns about turns.
“I’ll be located off Bethelview Road,” he said. “What they have is anyone who needs to take a turn into the strip mall beside me or even Kroger, you have to go loop around, go to Friendship Circle and turn around. Ideally, I would like to see the area opened up to allow access.”
Also present and handing out fliers was Justine Chapman with the Hwy. 20 Community Alliance, a group of homeowners and businesses in Cherokee and Forsyth counties.
“There are some people who are losing their homes along Hwy. 20, losing their businesses,” Chapman said. “My home is less than a quarter-mile away from the highway, so I’m going to be affected. We’re going to be turning left across six lanes of traffic or turning right, going half a mile to turn left toward Canton.
“We’re concerned about safety issues. We’re concerned putting a six-lane highway in is going to increase traffic; it’s going to change development forever.”
Higley said the state is looking to do six lanes to account for existing and future growth in the area.
“That’s based on a lot of different factors, not the least of which is projected growth in the area,” he said. “We’ve seen just astronomical growth in terms of population in the last 30 years in Forsyth County and also Cherokee County … we’re really looking to the future based on projections and trying to build the right road once.”
A second public meeting will be held at Calvary Baptist Church at 137 Hightower Road in Ball Ground on May 16 from 5-7 p.m.
Both meetings will have the same information.
A copy of the plan and more information is available at www.dot.ga.gov/BS/Projects/SpecialProjects/SR20Improvements.