By David Pendered
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the Sierra Club’s support for the 2002 reelection bid of former Gov. Roy Barnes.
A crowd of 148 attended an open house Thursday night to toss their 2 cents into the conversation over the proposed widening of Ga. 20, from Canton to Cumming.
Call it what you will – Ga. 20, Northern Arc, Outer Perimeter, Outer Loop – the state intends to improve east-west access across Atlanta’s far northern suburbs. The open house was a step in that process and another open house is slated for Tuesday in Ball Ground.
Ga. 20 runs somewhat parallel to the Northern Arc’s proposed route and already has been expanded. Additional construction would enable to handle more vehicles. The state’s official position is that options range from doing nothing to doing something big.
Considering the existing mobility demands, and the population projections, there’s a fair chance that something significant will be built. A rule of thumb on all road projects in Georgia is that Ga. 400 was first mapped in the 1940s by a Chicago transportation planner. It took 50 years, but a major portion of the original plan was built.
That said, the fate of the Ga. 20 project is anything but certain.
For one, it’s in the backyard of Tea Party organizers of the group’s opposition to the 1 percent sales tax for transportation that voters rejected in 2012.
For another, the Sierra Club based its opposition to the sales tax referendum partly because some of the proceeds would have built a nine-mile limited access highway in Gwinnett County on the land preserved for the Northern Arc.
For Ga. 20, the public process is part of a schedule that includes the start in 2019 of right-of-way acquisition and construction, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. GDOT’s website has an extensive page that explains the project.
GDOT officials said the crowd Thursday offered a lot of good insights that will be analyzed over time.
The open house is part of the effort to create an environmental impact statement. The purpose of the EIS is to “document existing issues and appropriate solutions for the corridor,” according to the GDOT. GDOT is conducting the EIS in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration.
According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, the purpose of the open houses is to provide:
- “An opportunity to define the existing issues and to develop context sensitive solutions that address the needs of the traveling public, while seeking to preserve the character of the community and quality of life of its residents.”
This focus on “context sensitive solutions” is one aspect of the Ga. 20 project that differs from the Northern Arc.
The state is emphasizing the importance of local concerns, as opposed to presenting as a done-deal a planned divided highway with limited access, which is how the Northern Arc was interpreted.
The Northern Arc was viewed as a way to open the foothills of north Georgia to development. Its opponents contributed to the defeat of then Gov. Roy Barnes in his 2002 reelection campaign in part because of his support for the project. The Sierra Club supported Barnes’ bid for reelection despite the organization’s opposition to the Northern Arc.