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Tax may pay to widen Hwy. 20 west of town
Traffic moves along Hwy. 20 west of Cumming, a stretch of the busy corridor that could be widened to four lanes as part of a project recommended by the Atlanta Regional Commission. If the state and voters agree with the proposal, funding for the roadwork could come from a regional 1-cent sales tax for transportation. - photo by Jim Dean


Widening Hwy. 20 from Interstate 575 to Ga. 400 was one of 281 road projects submitted by the Atlanta Regional Commission for the metro area’s transportation wish list.

It is part of a statewide list of project suggestions, including 56 from Cumming and Forsyth, to be considered for a 2012 referendum on a 1-cent sales tax for transportation.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said the Hwy. 20 project, which would span eastern Cherokee and western Forsyth counties, has been a longtime priority in the state.

“It was on the radar screen back in the mid '90s. Gov. [Roy] Barnes had it on his highway program before he left office and then of course due to the DOT financial situation, they kind of slowed it down,” Gravitt said.

“It’s a very much needed project and it has been needed over the years because it’s the most heavily traveled east-west corridor in the state, I think.”

In December, the state transportation board voted to approve $28.5 million for the widening of Hwy. 20 in east Forsyth.

The project will expand the road from two to four lanes from Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett County to Samples Road in Forsyth.

The widening -- which will be divided into three parts totaling more than 7 miles -- is not set to start until 2015 and could take until 2018 to finish.

Forsyth and Cumming submitted their priorities for the regional transportation tax along with the other governments in the 13-county Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

If approved by voters, the tax is projected to yield nearly $1 billion over 10 years in the district.

The ARC is projected to get about $8 billion over a decade if its sales tax is approved, though the list of 437 potential projects would likely cost some $29 billion.

If the Hwy. 20 widening project were to make the cut, it’s likely the project would be funded from the ARC, not GMRC, money.

It would also be a “tremendous impact to the county,” said Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam.

“We’ve had it on our wish list for a long time,” he said. “We’ve tried to pitch in and solve our own problems, but it is a state road and we need state participation.”

Tam said the project would relieve congestion and provide “easier access for both business and tourism and commuters.”

Gravitt cautioned that the widening effort would “take years and years” even if funding is in place.

“It’s not something that’s going to be done in a few years,” he said.

The projects from all regions are being whittled down by the state Department of Transportation. By June 1, the DOT will provide an approved list of submitted projects to each regional commission’s roundtable.

The GMRC's 26-member roundtable, which includes Tam and Gravitt, must approve its final list by Oct. 15.