Apr 11, 2017
A crowd of about 120 residents, county commissioners and Northside Hospital representatives pressed into Calvary Baptist Church in Ball Ground Monday night to discuss the heavily opposed six-lane Highway 20 widening proposed project.
The latest Georgia Department of Transportation’s plan to improve severely congested Highway 20 by widening it to as many as six lanes has residents along the busy corridor fighting back and they turned out to the meeting to hear the latest update.
Cherokee County Commissioner Steve West told the crowd that he, Chairman Buzz Ahrens, state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, chairman of the Senate transportation Committee and a former GDOT board member and GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry have heard residents’ concerns and met Friday to discuss more options for the Highway 20 plan.
West said the meeting he had with GDOT representatives and Beach on Friday was informative and the project now has multiple options.
“I left that meeting with a good feeling,” he said. “We have several plans on this Highway 20 project that we’ve been trying to bring down the destructive part of our neighborhoods and keep the historical parts. We’ve got their ear. Beach gave us his word that he would go to see if GDOT would review these plans and that he would give us his full support and go to bat for us.”
Justine Chapman, a resident of Orange Shoals in Canton and member of the Highway 20 Community Alliance, hosted the meeting to inform residents and officials of their stance on the proposed Highway 20 widening project.
The alliance is made up of neighbors from communities affected by the Highway 20 widening project and advocates for long-term development that preserves the character of rural Cherokee and Forsyth counties, increases safety along Highway 20, and minimizes environmental and health concerns, Chapman said.
Residents have reached out to Chapman and the alliance voicing their concerns with widening Highway 20 from Canton to Cumming more than four lanes.
“In most places there are only two lanes now and in some places there are four lanes,” she said. “The speed limit is going to be maintained between 45 and 55 mph and they are using what they call an R-cut design or “Michigan left” that most people wanting to go left onto the highway will have to turn right, go a little ways forward, stop at a turn lane and do a U-turn across three lanes of oncoming traffic.”
Chapman said several residents spoke with her before the meeting and said the closest left-turn lanes were about a mile from their neighborhoods.
“They will also build a concrete median and concrete ditches on either side with retention ponds,” she said. “It’s not going to be pretty.”
West said he grew up along Highway 20.
“I’m one of many in this room that would like it to stay a two-lane road all the way to Cumming but you have to be realistic,” he said. “I understand where you are coming from, but I also understand the growth and need to widen the highway.”
Chapman showed the audience a photo of the Old Mill Road intersection along Highway 20 and said GDOT’s plan is to have nine total lanes at that intersection and determine later whether a stop light is needed there.
“This particular intersection gets a lot of traffic after the high school is let out, so you have a lot of high schoolers making a left turn onto Highway 20,” she said. “This is not going to be a very safe intersection if there’s no light there.”
Chapman said one of GDOT’s plans is to redirect traffic and reduce accidents on Interstate 285 by using the Highway 20 widening project as an alternate route.
“That would dramatically increase the number of tractor trailers by 15 percent onto Highway 20,” she said. “There is a separate project being federally funded connecting Highway 75 to Highway 575 and will also be completed around 2021 which this widening project will connect to.”
Traffic studies show that widening roads does not decrease traffic, Chapman said.
“There’s this theory called induced demand that means ‘if you build it they will come.’ If the road exists, within five years the capacity of that road is met and the traffic increases,” she said. “If you build wider roads, you end up with more cars on that road. This widening will not address the congestion problems, it will just create more.”
Beach was not in attendance at the meeting due to a family commitment, but sent a statement that was read to the audience.
“I have heard the concerns of the citizens loud and clear,” he said in the statement. “We are working on a solution to make enhancements to the roads, but also address concerns of the citizens. We hope to announce more details in the coming weeks.”
The biggest concern, according to Chapman is the widening project will spur rapid and dense development.
“If you are like me and my husband you live out here because you do not want to live in an urban setting. Building this highway will change this area into a much more urban setting very quickly,” she said. “Cherokee County currently has regulations for this community such as no big box stores—nothing over 8,500 square feet because they want to promote local businesses and keep businesses small. That will go away if we have this big highway.”
Chairman of the Cherokee Hospital Authority Billy Hasty said the new $250 million hospital will need the infrastructure to provide the safety of ambulances and patients coming to and from the hospital.
“I know that all of you have expressed your concerns and frustrations and sometimes this happens and goes nowhere,” he said. “What has happened in this case is your commissioner Steve West has listened to you and your concerns and has done something about it. He has gone to the state DOT and Brandon Beach and conveyed your concerns and they have listened. He has been someone to carry the torch for you and I’m not a politician, but you should all be proud of what he has done.”
As soon a six-lane highway is built, plenty of infrastructure will be in place to support apartment complexes, extended stay motels and strip malls similar to Highway 92, Chapman said.
“We would like four or fewer lanes if possible and would love for GDOT to relook back at their plans for improvements and consider assistance management as a viable option because their traffic study shows it is a viable option in some areas,” she said. “We would like traffic signals and other safety measure guarantees so that we end up with a 65 mph superhighway going through our community. We want to do as little as required to meet GDOT’s goals. We want the minimum plan, not the maximum plan.”
The collapse of Interstate 85 has taken the priority of GDOT resources to get the bridge open as quickly as possible, Beach said in his letter.
“Thank you for your work on bringing a resolution or ideas and concerns and frustrations to their attention,” he said. “I want to assure you and the citizens of Cherokee that I will continue to fight to improve the infrastructure in Cherokee County to make the quality of life better for you in the future. Highway 20 improvements were originally funded with federal dollars and with the passing of HB 170 it was moved to state funding which avoids federal bureaucracy, has more flexibility and saves tax dollars.”
The crowd began to applaud as Hasty continued to say more options are now on GDOT’s table when moving forward with the Highway 20 widening project.
“The bottom line is I think you are going to be very pleased with some of the options being considered,” Hasty said. “Your concerns have been heard and will be met. I have the same concerns and wishes that you all have.”
Photos by Sampson Jenkins. Original article at: http://www.tribuneledgernews.com/local_news/highway-concerns-heard/article_4bfefb3a-1f13-11e7-ab48-c3382139134a.html