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Group formed to study Reagan Parkway extension

LILBURN -- Gwinnett County residents representing five stakeholder groups were elected here Tuesday night to participate in the planning for the proposed Ronald Reagan Parkway extension, which would connect the road to Interstate 85, and possibly be the county's first toll road.

More than 150 residents attended the meeting, held at Berkmar High School. Following presentations by Brian Allen, director of the Gwinnett Department of Transportation, David Nachman, of Skanska company, and facilitator Jon Abercrombie, the crowd adjourned into smaller groups to elect the following people for a Citizens Advisory Group:

Eddie Daves, Norcross, and Henry H. (Hal) Thompson Jr., Lilburn (representing central county residents); Joseph Walsh, Lawrenceville (north county residents); Larissa Thomas, Lilburn (environmental group representative); Dennis Wright, Snellville (commuters); Howard Kaplan, Norcross (businesses); and Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer of Snellville (local government).

The newly formed group is expected to hold its first meeting in January to advise Gwinnett DOT and project co-developer Skanska, to help determine if the proposed extension is feasible from a financial, environmental, technical, and public perspective.

Allen said from a funding standpoint, there's not a big supply of federal money available for road projects, but funds could come from the private or public sector. That could include SPLOST funding, if necessary, and tolls.

"If the project is feasible, tolls have to be considered," he said, emphasizing that tolls would affect the new part only, and would not be assessed on existing roads. The new road would connect Ronald Reagan Parkway to I-85.

During the nine to 12-month study period, group members will be briefed on progress in the study, asked to identify public benefits and concerns that may affect feasibility of the project and help officials keep larger groups informed of the study.

Pre-development cost negotiations are estimated at 59 percent ($1.4 million) for Gwinnett County and 41 percent ($1.02 million) for the developer.

David Nachman, Skanska project director, said the goal of the project is to help relieve congestion for commuters not only on Ronald Reagan Parkway, but also for those on nearby surface streets.

"Both the county and Skanska have to agree this project makes sense," he said.

If the project is approved in a timely manner, it could take five to seven years to complete on an "aggressive" schedule, Allen said.

"If it (the project) is not feasible, we won't do it," Allen told the group.

For more information about the Ronald Reagan Parkway Extension Study, visit: www.reaganextension.com.