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Cruising through road projects at the Forsyth County transportation summit
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Georgia Department of Transportation Russell McMurry speaks during the 2019 Transportation Summit on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Brian Paglia

Traffic and transportation projects are some of the biggest concerns for Forsyth County residents, and this week, they had a chance to hear from the experts.

On Wednesday, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, Forsyth County and the Rotary Club of South Forsyth joined together to host the 2019 Transportation Summit at the Forsyth Conference Center, where state and local officials detailed completed, underway and planned projects in the area.

“I commend the city and the county for their great work,” said Rudy Bowen, secretary with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s state transportation board. “I also commend the Georgia Department of Transportation and our district staff for the great partnership they have developed over the last several years with the county. The greatest example of this partnership is the widening of [Ga.] 400 and the building of the [Hwy.] 369 bridge, that hopefully will be under construction soon.”

Forsyth County

The first speaker to go over projects was Forsyth County Assistant County Manager Garrin Coleman. Coleman said three road widening projects should open later this year.

“These include Bethelview Road, which is a joint project with the Georgia Department of Transportation, as well as county-funded roadways along Brookwood Road, Sharon Road and Union Hill Road,” Coleman said. “All these projects should be substantially completed later this year, with most opening to traffic in late summer or early fall.”

Coleman said weather could impact those dates, particularly coming out of a very wet 2018.

Also in the county, Pilgrim Mill Road is being widened, as well as undergoing bridge demolition, grading and utility relocation, which are ongoing, and Coleman said the road should be opened “within the next 18 months.”

There are several projects that will start within the next six months to a year, including the widening of Hwy. 369 from Hwy. 9 to Hwy. 306 and the new Ga. 400 Exit 18 interchange at the current intersection.

“These two projects will be [bid] as one project, and we plan to award them this fall,” Coleman said.

Coleman said other projects will be the next phase of widening Old Atlanta Road – which will connect existing widened sections – and a project that would extend Ronald Reagan Boulevard from McFarland Parkway to Majors Road, which will “connect the previously constructed section of Ronald Reagan and will provide a parallel route to Ga. 400.”

The county received $1.5 million grant from the State Road and Tollway Authority for the Ronald Reagan project.

Projects currently being planned are a new Ga. 400 interchange with McGinnis Ferry Road, the widening of McGinnis Ferry Road and the widening of Post Road, which is divided into two segments: Hwy. 9 to Kelly Mill Road and work north of Hwy. 9.

City of Cumming

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Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow speaks during the 2019 Transportation Summit on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Brian Paglia

After joking he was going to solve all city of Cumming traffic woes by building a tunnel, Mayor Troy Brumbalow said there are two main projects being developed by the city of Cumming, both of which should help bypass the crowded downtown area.

The first project would connect Castleberry Road near the Cumming Fairgrounds to Veterans Memorial Boulevard, then a future development will extend the roadway from Veterans to Buford Dam Road.

“You’ll be able to go Castleberry Road all the way up to the lake,” Brumbalow said. “Where we think that is going to be a big benefit is people going around the square in rush hour traffic. It’s going to enable them to miss most of the square, and then we’ve got some other issues downtown [like] left-hand turns where there’s no left-turn lane.”

The other project would extend Sawnee Drive to Pilgrim Mill Road, which will also involve an upcoming development.

“That could really become a true bypass around the city,” Brumbalow said. “You’d be able to go all the way from Hwy. 20 to [Ga.] 400 through Pilgrim Mill.”

State projects

Brandon Kirby, District 1 engineer for GDOT, gave an update on a number of projects in Forsyth County and the city of Cumming, including the widening of two heavily-used roadways.

“As you already know better than anyone, two primary arterials to be expanded in the county are State Route 9 and State Route 20,” Kirby said. “State Route 9 is broken into four phases beginning at the Fulton County line and extending to [Hwy.] 20 in Cumming.”

The Canton Highway (Hwy. 20 west) project to widen the road from downtown Cumming to I-575 in Canton will be split into six smaller projects, which Kirby said “will begin at the ends and work toward the middle.” The roadway will be widened to three lanes with sidewalks on each side, and the Forsyth portions of the project will cost about $120 million. Meetings for the project will be held later this year.

Kirby said another project will replace cracked and broken slabs on Ga. 400 ramps and work will begin in winter of 2020.

“Typically, more projects can be delivered when a partnership exists, and in a more timely manner,” Kirby said. “This is because one of you may have funds toward the beginning of a project while you get started if the other entity can have funds later and finish it up. It’s a shared interest atmosphere.”

Last year, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao came to Forsyth County to celebrate the announcement of $184 million in grant funding from Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, to add two express lanes – optional toll lanes along existing lanes – on each side of Ga. 400 from the North Springs Marta Station in Sandy Springs to McGinnis Ferry Road and one express lane in each direction from McGinnis Ferry to McFarland Parkway.

On Wednesday, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry gave an update to the express lane project and said design work is currently being done.

Other planned projects include building a new Hwy. 369 bridge over Settingdown Creek, adding more striping, safety studies and raised pavement markers to areas not being resurfaced and repaving of Hwys. 9 and 53.

Innovations

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Rep. Kevin Tanner, who represents a portion of north Forsyth County and serves as the state House transportation committee chairman, speaks to during the 2019 Transportation Summit on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. - photo by Brian Paglia

Along with widening, repaving and expanding roads, the experts on-hand also spoke on issues surrounding transportation projects, such as adapting to new and upcoming technologies.

“Scooters, things we never thought about a few years ago, electric bicycles … air taxis [small, commercial aircraft making short, on-demand flights], these are things that sound like Jetsons conversations, but they’re not only in the future, they’re here today and they’re going to be coming very rapidly,” said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, who represents a portion of north Forsyth county and serves as the state House transportation committee chairman.

While autonomous cars have been a topic for years – and the 5G technology that could make them commonplace is being installed in Forsyth County and the city of Cumming – officials said smart traffic signals could also redefine how traffic moves.

“Data is power, and if you can leverage that data and make people’s trust better and plan better and can be more predictable, we all like that assurance,” McMurry said. “By about this time next year, Georgia will have the largest deployment of traffic signals that can talk to cars. We actually have several corridors now underway that the traffic signal will talk to the vehicle … it will let you know how much time is up before the signals turn yellow or red. It will also tell you what speed you need to go so you can enter the signal at green.”

As metro Atlanta struggles with whether to expand heavy rail, like MARTA, Tanner said bus rapid transit, which he described as a “train on rubber tires,” was more cost effective and more adaptive to technology.

“Bus rapid transit is much easier to adapt to new technologies, whether it’s electric, whatever the case may be,” he said. “It is also much, much more cost effective to implement. It gets the exact same results as rail would without the cost.”