316/Ga. 20 interchange back on table

LAWRENCEVILLE - A project to create an interchange at one of Gwinnett's most clogged intersections is back on track after falling victim to the state's transportation funding crisis.

Commissioners Tuesday urged the General Assembly to act soon on a solution to the state's $7.2 billion funding shortfall over the next six years.

Less than an hour later, they learned the state has agreed to reinstate a project to create interchanges along Ga. Highway 316 at Collins Hill Road and at Ga. Highway 20.

According to Gwinnett Transportation Deputy Director Alan Chapman, the project may not continue in its entirety, with HOV lanes along Ga. 316 possibly pushed into the future. But officials have agreed to construct the long-awaited interchanges - which will continue Ga. 316's limited access character farther west.

"State route 316 and state route 20 are two of the heaviest traveled roads in the county. That intersection shuts down in the peak hours," Chapman said. "The only real solution is to build a bridge and separate the traffic."

The project is also critical because of the growing enrollment at Georgia Gwinnett College, which opened at Collins Hill Road last year, he said.

This is the second time Gwinnett leaders have been able to lobby the state to revamp road projects killed by the funding crisis. The Georgia Department of Transportation also agreed to revive the widening of Ga. Highway 324 over Interstate 85 to match county projects to widen the highway on both sides of the interstate.

"There are a lot of important projects, but those are the two we thought were really critical," Chapman said.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Lorraine Green added a resolution to the Board of Commissioners' agenda to urge the General Assembly to act on the funding crisis.

She declined to say if she supports two proposals to raise money through sales taxes, but said she believed people should have a right to vote on a new funding strategy, especially since businesses are leaving the state because of traffic.

"This is a problem and it needs to be solved," Green said. "Transportation is not a Gwinnett problem. It's not a metro problem. It's a state problem. Rural counties can't get their roads paved. Mountain communities can't get safety improvements. ... We need to get this issue off the drawing board and into the hands of the people today."

In Gwinnett, voters approved a sales tax to fund county projects, and the county government has pitched in to help the state with larger projects, including the Ga. 324 widening. Chapman said the county has offered to help move the Ga. 316 and Ga. 20 interchange forward as well.

"We've been very, very quiet" on the issue, Green said. "I think it's time we found our voice."