FORSYTH COUNTY — In a 3-2 decision Thursday night, Forsyth County commissioners voted to move ahead with plans to improve Castleberry Road.
Commissioners Todd Levent and Jim Boff opposed the measure, which rescinded a November 2012 vote that had downgraded the scope of the project.
Also in 3-2 decisions, both with Levent and Boff opposed, the commission directed the county engineering department to update designs for the project, which will be changed back to its pre-2012 scope, and to find ways to pay for it.
The design includes widening the road to four lanes with a grassy median from Hwy. 20 in Cumming southwest to Bethelview Road.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, several residents spoke against changing the plan, while one speaker was in favor.
Most who spoke against the project said they don’t think Castleberry has enough traffic to warrant four lanes.
“I just love the rural aspect of Castleberry Road and, in fact, all of Forsyth County, which I think is quickly getting paved over and I’m distressed to see that,” Bradford Jameson said. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Ron Eastman said he and family decided to buy a home off Castleberry about a month ago due to the area’s light traffic.
“I was very shocked to see that anybody was thinking about widening the road,” he said.
Levent, who represents the district in which much of the project falls, led the charge in 2012 to maintain the two-lane setup, but to straighten some curves and add sidewalks.
Friday, he said he stands by his original opinion.
“The national standard to do a four-lane road is over 19,000 cars a day on the road,” he said. “Highway 9 has 21,000 to 23,000 and it’s still a two-lane road.”
He added that a traffic study for Castleberry in 2011 found it had about 8,000 cars per day.
“It has never had the traffic to warrant being a four-lane road and it still doesn’t, so that’s the bottom line,” Levent said, also noting that most residents of the area don’t want it widened and he has “hundreds and hundreds” of emails from them to prove it.
“All of the citizens were ignored [in Thursday’s vote],” Levent said.
During the meeting, he also questioned where funding for the project would come.
Brian Tam, who made the motion to rescind the 2012 vote, reminded him it had been approved as a 1-cent sales tax project in 2003.
“[Funding] will come from SPLOST eventually,” Tam told Levent. “But to kick-start the project, we have $1 million that was delivered two weeks ago by the Department of Transportation because they feel strongly that this is a worthwhile project. The rest comes from sales tax dollars that voters approved.”
Chairman Pete Amos said the DOT likely earmarked the funds for Castleberry since it is “shovel-ready.”
“It’s one of the few roads that [is], since all of the right of way was bought between 2002 and 2009,” Amos said. “We’ve got almost $9 million sitting there on the road already that’s taxpayer … money.”
Some residents during Thursday’s meeting also questioned the motives behind the project, suggesting that they could be to increase commercial development along Castleberry.
“It’s a safety project,” Amos countered. “It’s moving traffic safely and properly through Forsyth County.”