A long overdue update on Hwy 20

Despite the lack of updates this busy summer season, we are still working behind the scenes to fight the 6-lane proposal for Hwy 20. The further we get into this, though, the more apparent it is that this fight is a marathon, not a sprint. Slowly but surely we’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go!
As it stands, GDOT intends to move forward with the 6-lane proposal between Canton and Cumming, with a few very minor adjustments. GDOT is currently reevaluating traffic patterns at some intersections along the corridor, including at the entrance of the newly opened Cherokee Veterans Park, to determine if traffic signals or turn lanes would improve safety. They have made right-of-way acquisition offers for some properties, including the more “sensitive” properties with cultural, historic, or religious significance, but the majority of homeowners have not yet received their offers. GDOT also has not yet conducted the environmental studies they are required to do prior to finalizing the design of the highway, and have not received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Steve West, District 1 Commissioner for Cherokee County, has been meeting with other local elected officials, including Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt and Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Casey Cagle, to garner support for scaling back or rerouting the project to divert truck traffic off of Hwy 20 in favor of a more direct route between 400 and I-75. Given the logistical challenge of widening Hwy 20 through already congested downtown Cumming, Mayor Gravitt has taken a hard stance against widening the highway to 6 lanes since such a plan would actually increase traffic congestion by creating a bottleneck on the outskirts of the city. State Senator Brandon Beach, our local representative in Cherokee County and the Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is working with GDOT officials to find a solution that represents a suitable compromise for all parties.
We have heard rumors of more satisfying things coming down the pipeline and hope to have a more exciting update soon, but we will hold off on publishing rumors until GDOT releases an official statement. We are also eagerly (but perhaps not patiently) awaiting GDOT’s response to the comments and questions posed by concerned citizens at the Public Information Open Houses in May.
In the meantime, please contact Project Manager Cleopatra James at GDOT to express your opinion on the 6-lane plan. She can be reached at sr20improvements@dot.ga.gov, or by phone at 404-631-1546. You can find the contact information for other local officials here.

Last call to submit feedback to GDOT!

Today is the last day to submit your questions and comments to GDOT regarding their proposed widening of Hwy 20 between Canton and Cumming following their most recent Open House. All residents who participate in the comment period by the end of the day today (May 30) will receive a written response from GDOT. Comments submitted after today may not be considered.

If you haven’t yet had your voice heard, this is your chance! Here is the link to the online form. You may also email Eric Duff, Environmental Administrator, directly, if the form doesn’t work for you: eduff@dot.ga.gov.

Here is what I personally submitted to GDOT:

As a resident of one of the communities along Hwy 20, I am extremely disappointed in the lack of responsiveness from GDOT regarding their proposed plan for SR20 between Canton and Cumming. Many members of my community, myself included, have contacted GDOT representatives and our local politicians countless times to express our opposition to the 6 lane plan, and the response from GDOT was to shift the alignment of the road to preserve a subdivision sign and some parking spots at a church, to add a turn lane into a church, to approve a traffic signal for a new strip mall near Canton, and to change the design of two major intersections to eliminate left-hand turn lanes. These proposed “major” changes do not begin to address the well-founded concerns that I and others in my community have.

1. Studies show that widening existing roads does not decrease traffic congestion in the long term, as any benefit gained from widening the road is lost within 5 years of completion due to induced demand. Indeed, your own studies show that widening SR20 to 6 lanes would increase traffic by up to 62% by 2045 versus the “no build” option. What evidence do you have that this project, which is being sold as a way to alleviate traffic congestion will actually reduce traffic congestion through 2045?

2. GDOT representatives at the most recent PIOH displayed photos of nicely landscaped grass medians with azaleas and crepe myrtles. However, in my communications with Nicole Law, the former project manager, and Russell McMurry at the open house at the Bluffs on February 27, I have been told that “GDOT only does concrete” and that any landscaping is the responsibility of the city, county, or other municipal organization to fund, plant, and maintain any non-concrete median. They previously pointed to SR92 in Woodstock (which has a fake brick look median) as their design example. Has this plan changed, or is GDOT giving the false impression to residents that the median will be landscaped?

3. Traffic studies show that the eastern-most end of the corridor has the highest daily traffic counts, with more than 3 times the daily traffic at N. Corners Parkway than at the intersections of Hightower Rd or Post Rd. Why, then, at the section with the MOST traffic does the current design reduce the number of lanes from 6 to 4? Is there a plan for a bypass that would alleviate traffic bottleneck at Sawnee Dr, where the road narrows to 4 lanes? You state that you hope traffic will be diverted south onto Bethelview Rd or Post Rd (which you plan to eventually widen, it seems), but what evidence do you have that supports that claim?

4. AECOM recommended, based on traffic projections, that the road be widened at a maximum to 6 lanes between Scott Rd and SR369, 4 lanes between SR369 and Post Rd, and 6 lanes again between Post Rd and N. Corners Pkwy. Why, then, have you decided to make it 6 lanes in the Lathemtown/Ducktown section (SR369 to Post Rd), against the recommendations of your own traffic engineers? What evidence do you have that this is necessary?

5. Why, in the most recent proposed changes, did you narrow the lane width from 12′ to 11′? The Federal Highway Administration states that an 11′ lane increases the incidence of sideswipe and run-off-the-road accidents by 5% with speeds of 45 MPH and above. For those of us using this road every day to take our children to school or to get to work ourselves, that 5% increase could be fatal.

6. Have you evaluated the safety of the RCUT design for school buses traveling Hwy 20 to and from Sawnee Elementary, Free Home Elementary, Macedonia Elementary, and the various Middle and High schools whose buses may have to cross the highway? Are school buses able to do u-turns at all RCUT intersections, or only those with an extra “bump” on the shoulder of the road? Will drivers with horse trailers or other oversized vehicles be able to make these turns, or only at designated RCUTs?

7. I am concerned by efforts made by GDOT to remove traffic signals from SR316 in order to raise the speed limit, and by the current speed limit of 65MPH on stretches of SR400 north of Cumming that have the same apparent design as you have proposed for this stretch of SR20. Can you guarantee that the speed limits between Canton and Cumming will remain as they currently are (45-55MPH) and that GDOT will not raise the speed limit in the future?

8. Looking at your Fatal Flaw Strategy Screen Technical Memorandum from 2013, your analysis states that “transportation systems management” satisfies (“meets”) all requirements for safety and traffic congestion improvements through the year 2045. The only requirement this approach “does not meet” is literally defined as adding extra lanes. Have you considered, since scrapping the Federal project in 2013, revisiting the no build or technical improvements/transportation systems management options?

9. Your environmental review process will require permitting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for the filling of wetlands, crossing of waterways, and use of environmentally or culturally sensitive lands in both Cherokee and Forsyth. Have you begun this process? What sections of the road will require permitting?

10. SB183 (2017), Section 2(D) lines 81-84, exempts any state-funded project that widens an existing road for the purpose of economic development or traffic congestion alleviation from seeking competitive bids for construction. Given that this project meets that definition, will GDOT be foregoing the competitive bid process on this project? If so, how will GDOT ensure that the companies receiving contracts are paid a reasonable amount and that millions of dollars in tax revenue are not wasted?

11. How has GDOT formulated their traffic projections through the year 2045? What percent growth in population is factored into these traffic projections, and do they match with the population growth pattern of the affected area rather than Forsyth and Cherokee Counties in general? What other underlying assumptions–such as the existence of a 6-lane highway–are made in formulating these traffic projections?

12. Finally, I am very concerned that the design of this project will dramatically increase the amount of tractor-trailer traffic speeding through our community. With the completion of this road, SR20 will be widened to 4-6 lanes all the way from I-75 near McDonough to I-575 in Canton, providing an outer loop alternative for freight traffic coming from Savannah en route to I-75N. With the completion of the proposed link between I-575 in Canton and I-75 in Bartow County, this route would likely become the preferred arc for tractor-trailers and regional travelers seeking to avoid the congestion in and around the city of Atlanta. If this project were truly intended to alleviate traffic congestion between Canton and Cumming, there would be no need to continue the 4-6 lane plan between Canton and I-75 in Bartow County. Several design elements of the road, including the use of RCUTs and other restricted left-turn features, indicates that this project is NOT being built for the benefit of local residents, but for through traffic headed to and from I-75.

I understand the need to make improvements to SR20 to accommodate current and future growth and to improve safety along the corridor. However, I do not believe that the 6-lane design is necessary, nor that it will alleviate congestion or improve safety as GDOT claims.

Thank you for your consideration of the above issues, and for your responses to the concerns of other residents and business owners in the affected communities.

Justine Chapman

Highway 20 plan changes only “cosmetic”

Here is a great article from the Cherokee Tribune about GDOT’s proposed “major” changes to their plan for improvements between Canton and Cumming:

Resident: Highway 20 Plan Changes Only “Cosmetic”

And a summary of our thoughts on the second open house:

What GDOT really means

We keep hearing rumors that things are changing behind the scenes, and that we just need to keep pushing. If you haven’t yet, please write or call your local GDOT representatives to voice your opinion. GDOT will be meeting with their State Transportation Board representatives to discuss this project on June 15, so call/write them ahead of that meeting to tell them what you think!

Jeff Lewis
P.O. Box 480
White, GA  30184

Emily Dunn

Post Office Box 56
Blue Ridge, GA 30513

Thank you to everyone who turned out to the GDOT Open Houses this week and last week. It’s encouraging to see so many members of the community engaged in the process!

One Cumming resident’s concerns

I am a resident of Forsyth Co and live off Hwy 20, near the proposed project.  We all agree improvements are needed for future growth.  It is overwhelmingly concerning that the forecast for the future proposes 6-9 lanes.  GDOT studies indicated 4 lanes is sufficient to address purpose of this project, per GDOT – “to address the unacceptable levels of congestion; high crash, injury & fatality rates; and limited mobility for east/west travel movements.”  GDOT’s crash data map, pictured below, shows the highest crash levels going thru downtown Cumming, yet the Hwy 20 improvements stop at Sawnee Dr just west of downtown Cumming.

HWY 20 crash

This proposal does not address the worst part of Hwy 20 which is downtown Cumming, and the 6-lane design will push more traffic in that direction.  I understand there was no consensus between GDOT and the city of Cumming, but at the end of the day, GDOT manages this state road and needs this HUGE issue in this plan, and not take a “let’s wait and see and then try to fix it 30-40 years from now” approach.  Who are the people of Forsyth County and Cumming who are working with GDOT?  I seem to get no response to my inquires with our local officials.

If this proposal goes through and downtown Cumming becomes an immediate issue, how long before GDOT takes care of it with a reroute or other solution?

GDOT indicates that once Post Rd and Bethelview projects are completed, they feel more of the traffic will route down these roads.  If that is the case, then 4 lanes should be sufficient from these intersections to keep a continual flow of traffic through Cumming, with traditional lights at the intersections.  Six lanes will not allow a continual flow into Cumming, nor reduce the crash rate which GDOT’s crash map shows is the highest along Hwy 20!

Jackie Koman
Cumming, GA 

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GDOT has heard our concerns…and dismissed them entirely

Several hundred concerned Forsyth and Cherokee County citizens turned out on Monday night to the first of two open houses being hosted by GDOT to reveal proposed changes to the plan for Hwy 20 between Canton and Cumming. After months of hearing concerns from residents, business owners and local elected officials over the completely unnecessary 6-lane proposal, here is GDOT’s response:

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 10.48.44 PM

That’s it. GDOT heard from residents that a 6-lane highway was not needed or wanted in the community, and their response was to tweak the road’s alignment in a few spots to preserve entrance signs and parking spaces and to add a turn lane for a church. These changes are so insignificant in the bigger picture that they might as well have changed the shade of white they planned to stripe the road with.

A few other changes were visible on the display boards set up around the room, if you knew what you were looking for. The new plans have reduced the previously 12′ lanes to two 11′ lanes and one 12′ lane (for trucks and school buses), which reduces the right-of-way by a total of 2′ but will increase sideswipe accidents by up to 5% according to FHWA data. One additional traffic signal was added at the Canton Exchange, a shopping center featuring a Party City and Hobby Lobby that’s slated to open in fall 2018, and five additional requests for traffic signals were denied. Here’s a full list of “major changes” proposed by GDOT, according to the handout provided at the meeting:

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 11.51.37 PM

And, with that, GDOT has checked the box next to the requirement for “community input” without actually taking into account the concerns of the community.

GDOT will be hosting the second of the two open houses next Tuesday, May 16, at Calvary Baptist Church in Canton/Ball Ground from 5:00-7:00. Detailed display boards depicting the entire stretch of road will be available for the duration, and several GDOT employees and transportation consultants will be on hand to answer questions and receive feedback from affected residents. Question/Comment sheets, provided by GDOT, can be submitted at the meeting, or comments can be submitted online at GDOT’s SR20 website. (About halfway down the page there’s a gold button that says “Submit Comment.”)

Comments/letters may also be submitted in writing to:

Mr. Eric Duff
Georgia Department of Transportation
State Environmental Administrator
One Georgia Center/16th Floor
600 West Peachtree Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30308

Comments MUST be received by May 30, 2017, in order to be considered by GDOT. 

If you haven’t already, please sign and share our petition and write your local representatives and GDOT to voice your concerns about their plans. You can also sign up to volunteer with the Hwy 20 Community Alliance, or share this information with family and friends.

While we are frustrated by GDOT’s lack of concern for the communities and individuals affected by their proposed plan, we are not discouraged. It simply means that we must be louder and push harder.