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Widening of Hwy. 20 in Forsyth, Gwinnett hits snag
Construction of a bridge on Hwy. 20 over the Chattahoochee River was halted in late September because a permit had to be modified. Work is expected to resume by the end of the month. - photo by Micah Green

EAST FORSYTH — One of three simultaneous projects to widen a congested stretch of Hwy. 20 in Forsyth and Gwinnett counties has experienced a “significant delay” due to daily water releases from Buford Dam, state transportation officials said.

The 1.07 miles from James Burgess Road in Forsyth to Burnett Trail in Gwinnett includes two new bridges across the Chattahoochee River. However, construction was halted in late September because a 404 permit required modifications, according to Teri Pope, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

Although it spans the shortest distance of the three projects, the bridge effort has proved the largest obstacle in the widening of the total 7.53-mile stretch.

Once completed, the $10.2 million project will present motorists with four lanes on a divided highway with a sidewalk.

According to Pope, this “principal crossing over the Chattahoochee River” links the neighboring counties south of Lake Lanier. The widening of the overall section is expected to “enhance traffic movement and improve vehicle pedestrian safety.”

The new, parallel bridges will be south, or downstream, of the existing structure. The original bridge, on which traffic currently passes, will be demolished after the two new spans open.

Work on the first bridge began June 12, 2013, and the relocation of utility lines is nearly complete, according to Pope.

“One new bridge is under construction now, [and] it is two lanes wide,” Pope said. “When it is finished, traffic will be moved to that new bridge with one lane for each direction.

“When the second new bridge is open, traffic will have two lanes in each direction, and each bridge will carry one direction of traffic.”

However, she added, a permit modification was required because of a “construction method change.”

The permit originally called for contractor C.W. Matthews Contracting of Marietta to use barges in the river to build the new bridges and demolish the existing one.

But because of the daily water releases from the Buford Dam north of Hwy. 20 into the Chattahoochee, barges can’t be used and must be replaced with stone jetties.

“The water levels change too quickly and too frequently,” Pope said.

The switch to jetties has required “complex interagency coordination” between the DOT, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service, she said. The state hopes to see work resume by the end of the week.

Pope said C.W. Matthews has not yet asked the DOT to extend the project’s completion date from May 31, 2016, but is expected to do so.


Toward the river


Such woes have not affected the 2.75-mile project to the west of the bridge portion.

Hwy. 20 between Samples and James Burgess roads is also being widened to a four-lane divided highway with sidewalks. Clearing of that area has been completed, Pope said, and grading, erosion control and utility relocations are under way.

C.W. Matthews was also awarded this $20.7 million project. It remains on track for its Nov. 30, 2016 completion.


Gwinnett construction


Although not in Forsyth, the third leg of construction will affect any motorist using the new eastbound bridge into Gwinnett County.

The 3.71 miles from Burnett Trail to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard are being widened to the same, continuous four-lane divided highway.

C.W. Matthews began work on June 4, 2013, and has nearly completed utility relocations, Pope said.

Crews have begun building a retaining wall and drainage structures and pipes Grading is under way.

The $31.8 million project has a contract completion date of June 30, 2016, and has not experienced reported delays.


How traffic flows


Because it is a work zone, the speed limit on Hwy. 20 through all three stretches is 35 mph, said Pope, adding that all fines have been doubled.

One lane in each direction will be kept open during morning and evening commute times on weekdays. She said lane closures are allowed only on weekdays between morning and evening rush hours, overnight on weeknights and on weekends.

“Crews work in sections within each project to build two new lanes next to the existing lanes, then [they] shift traffic to those newly built lanes,” Pope said. “After traffic is off the original lanes … the upgrade work starts on the original lanes.

“As a section of road nears completion, traffic will be split to use one lane on each side of the median, separating directions of traffic. Finally, the second lane in each direction will be open.”

She said all driveways along Hwy. 20 remain accessible, but that access will be on gravel roads “at times.”

Once all three projects are completed, Hwy. 20 will be a four-lane divided highway from Ga. 400 in Cumming to Grayson in Gwinnett.