Over 120 people turned out to Calvary Baptist Church in Ball Ground on Monday night to learn more about GDOT’s proposed changes to Hwy 20. Because time was limited at the meeting and we weren’t able to get to everyone’s questions, we have addressed below all questions and comments submitted on note cards after the meeting. Similar questions have been combined for simplicity.

If you have any unanswered questions about GDOT’s plan, about things said at the meeting, or about what you can do to get involved, feel free to email us directly at hwy20communityalliance@gmail.com. We will update this article with issues received by email.

What is the purpose of the 20′ to 24′ cement median?

The primary purpose of the median is to keep east-bound traffic in the east-bound lane and west-bound traffic in the west-bound lane. A raised median keeps inattentive or reckless drivers from crossing the center line and causing a head-on accident, which is the leading cause of fatal automobile accidents on SR20, historically. In the current proposal, the median will be 20′ wide where the speed limit is 45 MPH and 24′ wide where the speed limit is 55 MPH, but will be reduced to a sliver to make space for turn lanes. Having a 20′-24′ space between the two sides of the highway allows space for a double turn lane without causing any significant shift in the lanes continuing on straight. In this screen shot taken from GDOT’s proposal video, you see the green median, which is 20′ wide, as compared to the gray median, which is only a few inches wide so that the center of the highway can accommodate the turn lane turning into Hampton Station Blvd from westbound SR20.

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-10-19-19-pm

Why is the median going to be concrete and not grass or landscaped?

As GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry stated at the February 27 meeting on Hwy 20 at The Bluffs, GDOT just does concrete. If the community would prefer to have a grass median, or a nicely landscaped median with shrubs or trees, those changes would have to be proposed, funded, and maintained by the county, city, or a local organization. The median would, most likely, get the stamped and painted concrete “brick” look, a very faded version of which is featured along Hwy 92 in Woodstock. Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 1.21.38 PM

How do you know this is a bypass intended to divert truck traffic from I-285?

The stated purpose of this project is to alleviate the congestion of commuter traffic between Canton and Cumming. However, if it were truly about increasing traffic flow between Canton and Cumming, why would GDOT simultaneously be working on a federally-funded project to widen Hwy 20 between I-575 in Cherokee County and I-75 in Bartow? Why, if GDOT’s own traffic studies say that 4 or fewer lanes could accommodate local traffic, have they propsed a 6-lane design? Based on the history of the Northern Arc project and the expected increase in freight traffic that will come with the expansion of the port at Savannah, the logical conclusion is that this project is a new Northern Arc. We’ve written a more detailed analysis of our thinking here.

When did GDOT’s plan change from 4 lanes to 6?

Previous proposals for the expansion of Hwy 20 have all proposed that the corridor be widened to 4 lanes. In December 2016, however, GDOT presented both the 4-lane option and the 6-lane option at a community meeting in which they were seeking public input. According to documents received by the Hwy 20 Community Alliance through a Freedom of Information Act Request, the decision to “escalate” the design of the road from 4 lanes to 6 was made by GDOT in the fall of 2016. In a signed interdepartmental memo dated September 30, 2016, GDOT State Program Delivery Engineer Albert Shelby stated that GDOT would proceed with the 6-lane concept, but consider “reducing back to 4-lanes” if “significant pushback” was received from the community. screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-5-32-29-pm

What do you mean by “environmental impact”? 

When we say we’re concerned about the “environmental impact” of GDOT’s proposed project, we’re referring to the effect the road will have on the physical space around the highway, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, the wildlife that will be displaced by development, and the cultural and historic resources like cemeteries and churches that may be displaced. An increase in highway traffic, particularly tractor-trailers, will add air and noise pollution, which has been shown in multiple studies to cause health problems like asthma and other respiratory illnesses, childhood cancers, and dementia in adults. The current project proposal also calls for filling in a significant stretch of naturally occurring streams and wetlands, which may affect water quality or availability for the many Cherokee and Forsyth residents who depend on well water.

The environmental impact of the project is of particular concern because GDOT has received 100% state funding for the project, which significantly reduces the legal requirements for environmental studies. Because they aren’t using federal funds on the project, they are not required to study or attempt to minimize harm to historic and cultural resources as we believe they should be required to do. Click here for more information on how GDOT is circumventing federal environmental regulations.

Who makes the final decision for the design of Hwy 20? When will that decision be made?

The design of Hwy 20 is an ongoing discussion between GDOT and GDOT’s technical advisers, local representatives from the legislature and county commissions, and outspoken members of the community. GDOT has certain requirements for holding public input meetings throughout the design phase, and continually accepts input from the public at the project-specific email address: sr20improvements@dot.ga.gov. The final design is expected to be decided upon some time in late 2017 or 2018, but nothing is set in stone until the shovels hit the dirt.

The key thing to remember, though, is that fighting a big project like this is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take significant and sustained pressure from the community to get this project scaled back, so write or call your representatives often!

Who do we contact to communicate our wishes for a smaller project? Who do we need to contact if we live in Forsyth County? In Cherokee County?

The contact information for your local legislative representatives in both Cherokee and Forsyth Counties as well as GDOT officials and your county commissioners is available here. All questions, complaints, or comments submitted to Cleopatra James, the project manager for the SR20 Improvements Project for GDOT, are required to be responded to and also documented as part of the official record for the project. You can write directly to Ms. James at SR20Improvements@dot.ga.gov.

The Hwy 20 Community Alliance has requested a face-to-face meeting with GDOT and some of the more influential decision makers involved in the project to more directly communicate the community’s desire to have this project scaled back. We’ll update our website with more information in the coming weeks. In the meantime, call or write your local representatives. Be heard!

How will this change the long-term development or land use plans for Cherokee and Forsyth Counties? When can we expect to see those changes?

Current applications for variances requesting changes in designations for zoning or land use are evaluated in part on whether or not local infrastructure could accommodate the increase in traffic that would come from replacing, for example, one single family home on a large plot of land with 100 single family homes in a densely packed subdivision. If a 6-lane highway is built through our community, the roadway would accommodate much more dense development than if a 4-lane highway were built or if technical improvements were made to the existing roadway to improve safety and traffic flow. Rapid and dense development would soon follow.

The planning, zoning, and land use departments at Cherokee and Forsyth Counties could provide a more specific timeline as to when changes are anticipated to be made to the long term comprehensive plans for each county. For information on Cherokee County’s Comprehensive Plan, click here. For information on Forsyth County’s Comprehensive Plan, click here.

Update: Cherokee County will be hosting a public input meeting about proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan on May 2. Time and location details are still TBD, but we’ll update the website when that information is made available.

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