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Ahead of the curve: local leaders talk road projects at annual transportation summit
Russell McMurry
GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry was one of several speakers at the 2021 Forsyth County Transportation Summit on Tuesday, Oct. 19. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Traffic in Forsyth County can be a headache, but local leaders recently shared their plans to help relieve some of the pain.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2021 Forsyth County Transportation Summit at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College, where the status of current road projects, plans for paying for upcoming improvements and planning for future transportation needs in the county were discussed.

“I am so grateful for our business community, who continues to make transportation a top priority and very grateful to our elected leaders and community leaders who continue to say that transportation continues to be a major priority and reason for investment in our community,” said James McCoy, president and CEO of the chamber. 

The event included videos with remarks from local and state leaders, including Gov. Brian Kemp, remarks from Forsyth County Manager Kevin Tanner and discussion from a panel made up of former chamber chairman Carter Patterson, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry, District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones and Forsyth County Commission Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills.


Current Projects

A program from the meeting listed several projects across the county that had either been recently completed, were under construction or had plans in the works. 

For major widening projects, Pilgrim Mill Road, which is almost completed, an extension that will connect the two current portions of Ronald Reagan Boulevard and the Hwy. 369 interchange on Ga. 400 are currently under construction, while two projects to widen Post Road, one from Hwy. 9 to Kelly Mill Road and one from Kelly Mill to Hwy. 20, are under design.

The right-of-way for several upcoming projects is also ongoing, including for the widening of McGinnis Ferry Road, a new Ga. 400 interchange with McGinnis Ferry, two new phases of Old Atlanta Road and a new road called the Coal Mountain Connector, and long-range plans are in place for McFarland Parkway and passing lanes on Hwy. 369

Forsyth County District 2 Commissioner Alfred John, whose district contains a large chunk of south Forsyth, said the projects in that part of the county were needed.

“Going forward, we look forward to the widening of McGinnis Ferry [Road] from Johns Creek hospital to McFarland Parkway. We also look forward to the widening of Atlanta Road from James Burgess Road down to Saint Marlow and McGinnis Ferry,” John said.

“If you look at the Ronald Reagan extension, that will be one of the most impactful ones because it will provide a direct connection from McFarland or McGinnis Ferry all the way up to Market Place Boulevard and Bald Ridge Marina Road.”

Upcoming intersection projects include improvements of the Hwy. 9 and Hwy. 369 intersection which will be completed with other projects; improvements are under design for the Hwy. 9 at Jewell Bennett and Shiloh roads at Shiloh Road East projects and the Hwy. 369 at Old Federal Road intersection work has been combined with other projects.

During the summit, a video was shown of the county’s series, “On the Move,” which provides regular updates of county road projects. 

Looking ahead

While several projects are ongoing, speakers at the summit also touched on the importance of planning for future roads and other transportation projects.

“As we all know too well, change is constant, and we should always be looking to the future. You may have heard Forsyth County recently joined the Atlanta Regional Commission,” said Forsyth County Manager Kevin Tanner, who previously served as chairman of the Georgia House Transportation Committee.

“A big driver of that decision was transportation planning as we looked ahead to be more connected to the broader region. According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, our population is projected to reach 315,000 people by the year 2030. Our transportation needs are only going to increase over the next decade, which means our investment must increase as well.”

When asked by panel moderator Seth Millican, executive of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, what her plans were for future projects, Mills, who represents north Forsyth, said she believes improvements to the state routes will make an impact on traffic congestion in the area.

“There are needs everywhere throughout the county, and my district in particular, Hwys. 9 and 306 are both state roads that are suffering badly right now.,” Mills said. “The growth of zonings from the past as well as zonings that are occurring now [and the Ga. 400- Hwy. 369 interchange] being done right now is putting particular pressure on those roads.”

During the panel discussion, Jones pointed out that changes and disruptive technologies such as electric cars, autonomous vehicles and air taxis, or small, commercial aircraft making short, on-demand flights, could also be options and concerns for dealing with traffic issues in the county.

“Imagine if Forsyth County was able to take on the Halo brand of air taxis. Orlando, [Los Angeles] and Dallas have all announced air taxi ports by 2023. What about us taking it on by 2022,” Jones said .”What about a set of air taxis that go from Forsyth to maybe Sandy Springs or Buckhead down to midtown or down to [Hartsfield Jackson] airport? That's the type of stuff that I think we have the ability to take leadership on.”


Paying for projects

While the future of road projects was a topic of discussion, so was how those projects will be paid for.

“Now, I’m not going to sugarcoat the situation: these projects are extremely expensive,” Tanner said. “Post Road is a headache for many of our residents, and it’s high on the priority list to be tackled, but did you know this one project alone will cost the county nearly $100 million? In order to keep up with those infrastructure needs, Forsyth County must have a strong funding source.”

Tanner said future road projects in the county could reach a total cost of up to $1 billion.

To pay for those projects, Tanner and other county leaders floated the idea of a 1-cent special option local option sales tax for transportation, or T-SPLOST.

“T-SPLOST would generate, without growth, at the current level, $52 million a year dedicated solely to transportation projects,” Tanner said.  “When we leverage that with state and federal dollars, we could have the opportunity to create an opportunity that has never been faced in Forsyth County before.”

Tanner said a T-SPLOST would be a “historic opportunity” for the county and would be a better option than paying for projects out of the county’s general fund, which pays for other projects, with bonds, which would take years to pay off, or raising the county’s millage rate.

That funding, along with state and federal funding, could be a “game-changer” for paying for local projects, Tanner said.

Tanner also added that if the current infrastructure bill being debated in Congress is approved, Forsyth County could receive up to $300 million for road projects.

For the federal funding, McMurry said he had spoken with “three U.S. DOT secretaries to ask if they’d ever seen anything with such a sea-level change of funding in a transportation reauthorization. None of those former U.S. DOT secretaries can ever remember, going back to the early ’90s, that there’s going to be this much increase in funding.”

On the state side, Jones said that new technologies could impact the state’s gas and sales tax revenues, particularly since gas taxes go toward road projects.

Using the example of a family going from Indiana to vacation in Florida, Jones said more efficient vehicles would mean fewer stops and less money spent in the state.

“They could literally leave Indianapolis, go through our state, get to Disney and maybe stop one time in our state,” he said. “We traditionally would pick them up hopefully once to fill up then also for a Chick-fil-A stop.”



Throughout the meeting, a common theme was the success of state and local leaders coming together to deal with transportation issues.

“I can tell you today, without that partnership and that mentality of ‘we’re all in this together,’ I’m not sure that [Ga.] 400 would be six lanes today,” McMurry said later in the meeting. “It might still be under construction, but can you imagine? I don’t want to imagine it, and I drive it often.”

Before hearing from the in-person speakers at the meeting, a video featuring comments from state and local leaders played near the beginning of the meeting.

The video included remarks from Kemp, John and District 27 state Sen. Greg Dolezal.

In his remarks, Kemp applauded leaders for working to “keep Forsyth County at the forefront of transportation in our state” and for working to stay ahead of growth in the area.

“As that growth continues, roadways such as [Ga.] 400 will continue increasing in importance as essential routes for our state. To prepare for future expansion, while staying true to its roots, Forsyth County officials are working hard to improve roads in their communities,” Kemp said.

“Our state’s transportation leaders and I look forward to continuing a partnership with Forsyth County that will ensure Georgia’s roads are ready to meet the residential and commercial needs of today and tomorrow,” he said.

In the video, Dolezal said as Forsyth County continues to grow, with much of the growth expected in the north end of the county, state and local leaders will need to find ways to keep residents moving across the area.

“With that opportunity and with the fact that we get to welcome new neighbors every day, also comes a challenge, so we have to keep up with infrastructure,” Dolezal said.

“Our infrastructure needs are probably the greatest in the state because we are the fastest-growing county in the state,” Dolezal said. “So, we are hard at work working on different ways to connect north and south Forsyth County, east and west Forsyth County to allow people to spend less time in their car and more with their family.”