During the meeting in Ball Ground, residents examined renderings of what the 25-mile stretch road could look like once completed and spoke with GDOT officials about the project, which is hoped to improve traffic and safety, but isn’t planned to be done for a decade or more.
Mohamed Arafa, a GDOT spokesman, said there are five basic ideas being considered for improving Highway 20 in the Canton-to-Cumming overhaul, which GDOT has billed as a public-input-driven project, with no solid plans as of yet.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Arafa said during the meeting. “Nothing has been decided. Nobody knows what (we) really need better than the residents.”
GDOT’s five suggestions presented Tuesday night included widening the whole 25-mile stretch, adding truck-passing lanes, a combination of some widening and adding bypasses, and widening parts of the road and using existing “local roads” to reroute traffic.
The fifth option — doing nothing — is one which the Federal Highway Commission requires GDOT to consider in the 80 percent federally funded project, but Arafa said leaving the road alone isn’t ideal.
Although it is only an “idea” and plans won’t be approved until 2016 at the earliest, Arafa said widening the road might be the most logical option for fixing the major commuter route.
But Arafa said the purpose of the meeting Tuesday — which was also part of federal requirements — was to hear from residents about what they thought should be done to fix the road.
Lathemtown community resident Ralph Holbrooks said it doesn’t much matter to him if Highway 20 is widened or moved, so long as something happens to improve the traffic.
Holbrooks said traffic on the Cherokee County side of Highway 20 is often so bad that he avoids going toward Canton as much as he can.
“If I’m going to go out to eat, I’d rather go to Cumming, because there’s less truck traffic that way,” he said. “But I end up going to Canton a lot.”
Sabine Yepes, who owns a feed and seed store on Highway 20 near Canton, said she felt sure there was a need for something to happen to the road. But she is worried that the potential bypasses could take Highway 20 away from her business and drive her customers away with it.
“A lot of businesses on 20 — the way they have these (suggested) bypasses — it’s going to kill the businesses,” Yepes said, motioning to the large renderings GDOT presented. “We spend our life’s savings on these businesses.”
Yepes said the last time road work was done on Highway 20, the construction took longer than projected and was a great inconvenience for her business.
“People called and said ‘I can’t get to you,’ or ‘I will not come because of the construction,’” she said, adding now that the work is finished, the road still has issues. “The other thing is, where they widened 20, they’re still having fatal crashes, because the speed has gone up.”
Bill Gilleland is also concerned about the potential of the road bypassing his property on Highway 20 in eastern Cherokee County.
“It’s been rezoned commercial so we’re paying higher taxes on it now,” said Gilleland, adding that he and his wife, Ann, are trying to sell the land.
Gilleland said with the news of GDOT’s potential work on Highway 20 breaking earlier this year, the process of unloading the land has been stalled, because much of the value depends on what happens to the road.
“We’ll just sit tight and wait and see,” he said.
Others, like Ken Drury of Cumming, aren’t content to wait and see what happens.
Drury said he came to the meeting Tuesday night to learn more about what GDOT was up to with the project, which he called a “ruse by the state” to accomplish the goals of the abandoned Northern Arc project.
“It’s a ruse, because it really is going to be the relief of Atlanta’s (Interstate 285) truck traffic, between Interstate-75 and I-85,” said Drury. “As a result, it really jeopardizes the quality of life between Canton and Cumming and on to Buford.”
The Northern Arc was a highly controversial project that would have built a road north of I-285 connecting I-75 and I-85.
Drury said the potential work on Highway 20 would be the same thing, just by a different name.
“In the old days, they talked about a Northern Arc. More recently, they’ve talked about a new Northern Arc,” he said. “I think this is the result. This is kind of a compromise.”