Duluth to reroute 120 around downtown

DULUTH - A state highway with a stop sign might be a regular sight in some of Georgia's small towns, but in the middle of downtown Duluth, it's cause for a traffic jam.

That's why city leaders are hoping to redirect Ga. Highway 120 into a gentle curve instead of sharp turns at stop signs as it passes through the city center.

"You can have a backup for four miles," Mayor Shirley Lasseter said of the route the road takes through town.

As Gwinnett and north Fulton have become job centers, Pleasant Hill Road and Ga. 120 have become common commute routes, Lasseter said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is already working on the intersection of Pleasant Hill and Buford Highway, creating a tunnel under the railroad tracks there.

Now, the city is taking the lead on the Ga. 120 project, which is between Buford Highway and Main Street and intersects the same railroad tracks.

"We're behind the eight ball now with moving people east-west," Lasseter said. "We would love to have this complete in 18 months, but we've got to work with the railroad and the state. It's hard to get all those together."

Last week, the county agreed to turn over nearly $1.5 million to the city from the 2001 sales tax program, so the city can act on its own in getting contracts set up. Another $189,384 will be transferred to build sidewalks on Hill Street.

"It eliminates the dog-leg," Gwinnett DOT assistant director Alan Chapman said. "It allows the 120 traffic to move efficiently through that area."

Lasseter said she wants to make sure all the key jurisdictions are involved because she's hoping a project where crews are widening Ga. 120 in the Lawrenceville area will cross Interstate 85 into Duluth.

In December, the state DOT held an information meeting in conjunction with the city to discuss the Ga. 120 realignment as well as an extension of Ridgeway Road and an extension of Davenport Road.

All of those projects, worth $4.7 million, could help traffic around the Town Green, a fairly new park and amphitheater in the middle of the traditional business district.

But Lasseter said she doesn't want to move cars away in a manner that hurts commerce.

"We will not alienate the downtown area at all," she said. "We want it to be easier, but also more accessible to our downtown businesses."

Despite the city taking over the project, Duluth Planning Director Ken Suddreth said he wasn't expecting a quick process.

"We've got engineers working on that," he said. "There is a lot of discussion about things, but that's a three- to five-year project before we see anything going on."