State eyes major upgrade to northern commuter route

In the post-TSPLOST world of tighter transportation dollars, the state is considering what might be called the Outer Perimeter Plan B.

Ten years after the proposed Outer Perimeter died amid environmental protests, the agency wants to upgrade a commuter-packed stretch of Ga. 20 from Cumming to Canton. Plans call for consolidating several widening projects scheduled for the route into a single plan that would upgrade the highway.

The state says it has no dollar figure for the project because the level of upgrades will depend on public input, funding and environmental considerations.

The tens of thousands of commuters and residents along the route can weigh in on the proposal at two public meetings this month.

“We’re hoping to find out what they envision for the corridor, what sort of speed do they envision the roadway to be designed at,” Georgia DOT project manager Karyn Matthews said.

The Outer Perimeter was a multi-billion dollar plan first proposed in the 1980s to build a superhighway around Atlanta about 25 miles outside of I-285.

And, while the Ga. 20 route mimics the Northern Arc of that ill-fated project, Matthews said there are no plans to build a superhighway. In fact, there are no plans until residents have a chance to weigh in, she said.

That invitation could generate a variety of responses. The route straddles everything from giant shopping centers to horse farms and undulates between two, three, four and five lanes along a 25-mile stretch.

“There’s obviously some things that need to happen to this road to make it better,” Canton businessman Roy Taylor said.

He cited the area near Canton Marketplace at I-575 where better planning could have prevented the daily congestion commuters face.

Transportation studies show major traffic snarls dominate the route, particularly west of Cumming where the eastbound speed limit plummets from 45 to 25 miles per hour through the center of town.

Those same studies show things will only get worse if nothing is done. The DOT projects morning travel times in both directions will double over the next 25 years and nearly triple during evening rush hours.

Scott Gero, consulting project manager, said improvements could run the gamut, from lane additions to interchanges at major intersections. The hard part, he said, will be making sure any upgrades still fit into the rural and urban landscape the highway crosses with the least amount of disturbance.

The project comes on the heels of improvements to other parts of Ga. 20.

The state has recently spent close to $10 million on passing lanes and safety improvements in Cherokee County. Another $18 million is committed to three other projects.

In Gwinnett, Georgia DOT is undertaking a $10.2 million bridge widening project over the Chattahoochee River, and the county last week committed $31.8 million to widen almost four miles from the river east to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

Residents interested in learning more about the Cumming-to-Canton project should attend either of two public meetings.

The first will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Otwell Middle School cafeteria, 605 Tribble Gap Road in Cumming. A second meeting will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Calvary Baptist Church, 137 Hightower Road in Ball Ground.