The State Route 20 Committee formed in mid-February by residents in the Macedonia community and has been picking up steam with others concerned about GDOT’s project to improve the road from Canton to Cumming, said Robert Chambers, the group’s spokesman.
Chambers said eight subdivisions, representing about 1,450 homes, have so far become involved with the group, which is generally in support of making improvements to Highway 20 but has concerns about some of GDOT’s proposed methods.
In December, GDOT held public meetings about several potential ways to improve the heavily traveled and often-congested route. Among the proposals for the project — which officials with the agency say has no firm plans yet — are widening the existing road, rerouting parts of it or building a new road that could be a limited-access freeway with exits.
Some fear the potential freeway routes are reincarnations of the Northern Arc plans, which would have built a road north of Interstate 285 connecting Interstates 75 and 85 but was abandoned more than a decade ago after public outcry.
GDOT officials maintain they are not trying to bring those plans back, as some residents have suggested was the case with several projects in recent years.
Chambers said it’s evident looking at the freeway routes that the plans are similar to at least part of the Northern Arc. But for those involved in the committee, which Chambers said is growing daily, the concerns are based on the options other than simply widening the 25-mile stretch of road — Northern Arc or no Northern Arc.
“We’re opposed to the work-arounds, and we’re opposed to the freeways,” Chambers said. “We believe there are 105 subdivisions that could potentially be impacted by one of these freeways, because GDOT does not yet know the actual location of these roads.”
Scott Gero, of AECOM, a consulting firm working with GDOT on the plans, said the worries are being considered in planning the project, which likely won’t see construction until 2020 or 2022.
“Yes, it’s scary for some of these neighborhoods, but we’re looking for their feedback, we want to hear from them,” Gero said. “That’s part of the case we’re building to justify where we end up.”
GDOT is in the throes of a yearslong study into what the impact of the project would be on the environment, residents and businesses, and the rich history along the corridor. That study will result in an Environmental Impact Statement, which has been required by the Federal Highway Administration. An EIS is the highest level of environmental documentation that can be required for such a project.
Gero said once GDOT gets closer to drafting the EIS document, there will be a “much deeper dive” into examining the potential impacts of the proposed routes, which are flexible and have not been fully investigated yet.
“That (phase) is where the bulk of the work is, as far as determining the best solution and documenting that,” he said. “So, we’re still in the early planning-level stages, and we’re approaching the deeper dive, which will begin later this year.”
Gero was candid, though, that GDOT is trying to ensure that whatever is done to Highway 20 will be able to accommodate truck and regional traffic along the road, as it is a designated truck route and not only used by local drivers. Those were also considerations in the Northern Arc plans, though Gero said he wanted to be clear, “This is not the Northern Arc. It’s a different study area altogether.”
As the project progresses, the State Route 20 Committee plans to keep a close eye on what the transportation department is considering. Chambers said one effort the group will make is developing a website that will let landowners look at their individual parcel and see what the risk of the road ending up on their property could be.
“What we’re about is making this information available as close down to the personal level as we can,” he said.
While the committee members are most supportive of widening the existing road, Chambers says they also want to make sure that even if the road is only widened, the impact will be as low as possible.
Gero said GDOT does not have a preference of the proposed changes to the road yet, but each of the ideas, including widening the existing road, have challenges.
“There’s definitely some locations along the corridor, like Macedonia and Buffington, where you have a lot of development right up against the existing road, so to go through and widen it would wipe out potentially one side, maybe both sides,” he said. “That’s a large impact, and that’s why some of the corridors we presented in December show little bypasses of those areas.”
Before work begins on Highway 20, Gero said GDOT will have likely about five more rounds of public input hearings.
“We want to try to go back to the public at least once a year,” he said. “We’re trying to be open and transparent.”