A Northern Arc by another name: Public process begins for widening of Ga. 20 from Canton to Cumming

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.

State transportation officials want to improve east-west access across the northern fringes of Atlanta. This map shows the proximity of the former Northern Arc to Ga. 20, which is now the subject of discussion for expansion. Credit: Truman Hartshorn study, GSU

State transportation officials want to improve east-west access across the northern fringes of Atlanta. This map shows the proximity of the former Northern Arc to Ga. 20, which is now the subject of discussion for expansion. Credit: Truman Hartshorn study, GSU

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.

This is GDOT's logo for the Ga. 20 project.

This is GDOT’s logo for the Ga. 20 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.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

9 replies
  1. TomTomaka says:

    If they build it they should make it a toll road. The people who live out there would agree, that those who use it should have to pay-as-they-go.Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    {{“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.”}}
    …Even though Georgia State Route 20 follows much the same path and runs roughly parallel to the formerly-proposed right-of-way of the erstwhile Northern Arc as Mr. Pendered mentioned, the emerging proposal to widen the current mostly 2 through lane Georgia State Route 20 roadway up to 4 through lanes between Interstate 575 near Canton and roughly Georgia 400 in Cumming should not and cannot necessarily be conflated with the Northern Arc and Outer Perimeter road construction proposals of over a decade ago.
    The state’s emerging proposal to widen Georgia 20 would only be an expansion of an existing at-grade roadway for about 20-25 miles or so between Canton and Cumming while the erstwhile Northern Arc and Outer Perimeter plans of old included proposals to build a new all-terrain separated-grade controlled-access multi-lane highway that would be roughly up to 70 in length at least between Georgia 316 near Dacula and Interstate 75 North near Cartersville.
    Despite the obvious political sensitivities of the route (to say the least), there is a HUGE difference between the state’s emerging proposal to widen between 20-25 miles of the existing Georgia 20 roadway between Canton and Cumming and the state’s past highly-controversial proposal to build a 70 mile-long new all-terrain expressway between Cartersville and Dacula.
    {{“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.”}}
    …Any expansions of Georgia 20 that have taken place between Canton and Cumming have been very modest and minimal at-best as most of the Georgia 20 roadway between Canton and Cumming remains a roadway with only 2 travel lanes.
    Though, in some places, the Georgia 20 roadway does have middle and left turning lanes, right turn only lanes and very-brief passing lanes, and though the Georgia 20 roadway is in the process of being expanded to include truck-climbing lanes between I-575 and the Forsyth County line, much of Georgia 20 between Canton and Cumming basically has only one travel lane in each direction.
    There are sections of Georgia 20 that have truly already been expanded to at least 4 travel lanes to date for an extended length, but all of those sections are east of Cumming and mostly east of Georgia 400.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      {{“…the fate of the Ga. 20 project is anything but certain.”}}
      …That is so true as, despite the well-documented political sensitivities of the Georgia 20 corridor, the biggest impedient to the state making continued and significant improvements to the existing Georgia 20 right-of-way is an increasingly severe lack of transportation funding statewide.
      The Georgia Department of Transportation itself has admitted that would likely be at least a decade before any work could begin on an expansion of the Georgia 20 corridor.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      {{“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.”}}
      …It is good that the State of Georgia looks like it is starting to learn from its past mistakes and is attempting to take a more delicate and better thought-out approach to transportation planning as opposed to the ham-handed and ham-fisted approach that it has often taken in the past.
      If the state is to actually do anything regarding the existing Georgia 20 corridor eventually, the state is going to have to take great care to make sure that anything it presents is not viewed by the public as being a new incarnation of the controversial and unpopular Northern Arc highway.
      If the “Northern Arc” tag gets applied to any proposed Georgia 20 expansion, or the public views the Georgia 20 expansion proposals as being associated with a “new Northern Arc” then things (public relations) could potentially get out of hand very quickly for GDOT the state.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Here are a couple of links to a couple of other pages that give somewhat detailed information on what the state wants to do to expand Georgia 20.
      http://www.dot.ga.gov/informationcenter/activeprojects/StateRoute/SR20/Pages/default.aspx
      http://www.dot.ga.gov/informationcenter/activeprojects/StateRoute/SR20/Documents/SR20-ProjectSegments.pdf
      The emerging proposal to expand Georgia 20 between Canton and Cumming is part of a larger plan to expand Georgia 20 through North Georgia between Cartersville and Sugar Hill.
      The larger plan to expand Georgia 20 between Cartersville and Sugar Hill actually could make the state’s Georgia 20 expansion plans even more politically sensitive, particularly in regards to the section of Georgia 20 that runs through some heavily-wooded areas just north of the Lake Allatoona Managed Hunting Area and south of the Pine Log Mountain Wildlife Management Area between Cartersville and Canton.
      It was the state’s proposals to run the erstwhile Northern Arc through this heavily-wooded hunting and wildlife area between Cartersville and Canton that drew much intense distain from environmentalists and conservationists that played a key role in eventually leading to the political derailment of the unpopular road construction proposal over a decade ago.Report

      Reply
  3. Alex2008 says:

    This expansion needs to happen. Getting to work in Gwinnett county from my house in west Forsyth should not be spent sitting in traffic going no where at all most of the morning. And for those worried about development along the route ruining the atmosphere, other than the road right of way, no other development can happen along the route for businesses to build up in the area, if the people who own the land do not sell it off to be developed. If I owned one of the several large tracts of beautiful farmland along the route no one can force me to sell it to be turned into a subdivision, apartment complex or a strip mall- unless I decided to put it up for sale myself! Don’t blame the road construction for the fact that you or a neighbor, as the landowner saw $$$$ and got greedy and sold off to a developer who turned the open land into a paved parking lot instead. If you want to preserve the rural atmosphere then do not sell when they come knocking and then blame the fact that they put in a new road and it “ruined” everything. My street has several beautiful farms on it, one decided to subdivide their land and put up houses, in protest, 3 other farms went up for sale immediately, which instead of protecting the farm atmosphere they just opened up their land to be bought and the beautiful views and fertile soils dozed over and row after row of housing to take their place. Because that’s SUCH a better way to stop the development you claim to hate so much from happening- giving them more space to develop on. I have my land zoned as agricultural and thanks to the selection and variety of trees that were left standing as they always have been instead of cutting everythibg down and trying to replace them with new, younger versions of the same tree to make it “landscapes”, I also have portions of my property classified as protected woodland- complete with 1 oak tree over 100 years old along with other native plants and trees something lost all over the place because people sell out instead of standing up to the cash offer and holding onto what they believe in.Report

    Reply
  4. TomTomaka says:

    I’m not sure that a daily commute from one county to another “should” be guaranteed to be free of traffic congestion, unless those who have chosen such living and working arrangements are paying the full cost. It is not right for regional and state leaders to continue spending general tax revenues on a road network with the aim of providing unlimited mobility by personal automobile. After several generations of trying that, we can easily see that is neither sustainable or desirable. Been there, done that.Report

    Reply
  5. Silverbullet says:

    When I was running for Governor
    of Georgia, I got a standing ovation, interrupting my presentation every time I
    spoke of that plan. Gov Roy Barnes, incumbent Governor, had stated it was going
    to cost $1.3 billion just to build a short section of the northern arc of that
    outer perimeter. I had the numbers on the complete plan I laid out and it was
    less than a billion to construct AND SERVE HALF THE POPULATION OF THE ENTIRE
    STATE OF GEORGIA.
    How many DECADES is the USA
    behind on rapid rail? Depends on what you are comparing it to. Moscow built their underground rail system in
    1919, and plenty of others are light years ahead of us.
    HERE IS THE PLAN: Each major city has an outside circumferential highway
    with stops at major road intersections. There is a north, south, east, west non
    stop to the downtown centers. Light rail costs 1/3 of what interstate highways
    cost! Then, each city has a rail link to a system of national north, south,
    east west high speed rail systems. Cities link to cities and then those
    combined links connect to the high speed nationwide rail at a limited number of
    places.
    The major problem is that for example in a lot of states, the DOT does not
    want rail. It does not need to be constantly maintained. You cant move it
    around every few years. In ATLANTA,
    GA the interstate highways were
    built in 1960, The GADOT has not stopped working on them, moving them around
    ever since. These people are paranoid about justifying their jobs! With no
    specific projects the Georgia Legislature increased fuel tax and gave the GADOT
    A BILLION DOLLARS!Report

    Reply

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