1947: The original Hwy. 20 bridge over the Chattahoochee River opens
2007: The Georgia Department of Transportation begins plans to build a new, wider bridge
2009: Meetings are held residents to discuss the project
June 2010: The widening moves forward after an environmental assessment is approved
Dec. 2010: Funding is approved for the project
June 2013: Work begins in Gwinnett and on the first bridge
Oct. 2015: The first new bridge opens to traffic
April 2017: Drivers begin using a newly constructed bridge for three lanes of traffic and a new roadway between Windermere Parkway and Samples Road
Almost a decade after initial plans began to widen a major thoroughfare connecting Forsyth and Gwinnett counties over the Chattahoochee River, motorists will begin to reap the benefits of longtime construction.
At midnight on Tuesday, traffic on Buford Highway (Hwy. 20 east) will split across a new bridge over the river that serves as the county line, which will now hold one eastbound lane of traffic and two westbound lanes.
Traffic will be on both new bridges.
Another traffic shift will move drivers to the newly-constructed roadway between the highway’s intersection with James Burgess Road west to Samples Road. That portion of road will remain open to east and westbound traffic.
Overnight flagging operators will help drivers with the new pattern.
Both projects are part of a years-long plan to widen Hwy. 20 about 7.5 miles from Samples Road in Cumming across the river to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett. Once completed, the highway will be four lanes, two on each side.
The work has been broken down into three sections: the Chattahoochee River bridges; Samples Road to James Burgess Road; and work in Gwinnett County.
At a transportation summit last October, the $32 million bridge was estimated to be completed in July 2017. At that time, the 2.7-mile project in Forsyth, which will cost an estimated $70 million, was to be completed by May 2019 and the Gwinnett work, costing $78 million, was to be done by this summer.
Eventually, the bridges will each carry traffic in one direction.
In October 2015, traffic was shifted to the then-new west bridge over the river from the original bridge built in 1947, which no longer meets road standards.
C.W. Matthews Contracting of Marietta is handling all three projects for a total cost of $62.7 million. Right of way acquisition for the total expanse cost $80.9 million.
Buford Highway is not the only portion of the road to be widened.
A project to widen Canton Highway (Hwy. 20 west) from I-575 in Canton to Ga. 400 in Cumming is currently in the planning phase.
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 said are safer than the alternative.
An R-cut, also called a Michigan left, is a design requiring going straight or making right turns at intersections, meaning those turning left will first make a right before going to a designated U-turn.
In December, surveyors were still working and, right of way purchase should begin in 2017. The project will be bid out in portions in 2018 and 2019.
Previously, officials have said construction could start in 2022, with designs targeting growth projections for 2045.