Jones Bridge Road Widening - A Done Deal?

Flash back to the Johns Creek City Council Work Session on Monday November 5, 2018.

A key topic on the agenda was discussion of the Jones Bridge Road (Waters Road to State Bridge Road) TSPLOST Project, with City Staff’s request for authorization to move forward to the Concept Phase. In the absence of Mayor Mike Bodker, Mayor Pro-Tem Lenny Zaprowski facilitated an open discussion where those present came to a unanimous decision requesting that City Staff proceed under the assumption that several project options should be considered during the Concept Phase. The intent was to allow for evaluation of options with an objective of finding the best balance between traffic congestion relief and protection of community character. At the conclusion of the discussion, several City Council members stated their appreciation for the civility and openness of the conversation.

Flash forward to the Johns Creek City Council Meeting on Monday November 26, 2018.

The agenda for the City Council Meeting included the follow-up from the November 5th Work Session meeting in order to consider authorization to proceed to the Concept Plan Phase for Jones Bridge Road (Waters Road to State Bridge Road).

Just three short weeks after having come to seeming consensus on a plan to work toward a handful of concepts for this project, debate ensued that stands in stark contrast to collaborative conversations held earlier. Mayor Bodker was not supportive of authorizing City Staff to include options beyond the single guiding description included in TSPLOST plans. The basis of his position is that the voters had approved TSPLOST, and that the city has very limited, if any, leeway in modifying that single option that would result in four lane road widening of Jones Bridge Road between Waters Road and State Bridge Road. Councilman Broadbent seemed to change his position from the previous meeting where he had agreed to an approach that would authorize City Staff to explore more than one option during the Concept Phase.

Councilwoman Endres challenged the Mayor’s assertion, and noted that during the run-up to the TSPLOST vote, residents had been told that any and all projects on the list were subject to City Council consideration and approval prior to going forward, and could be changed or abandoned at City Council’s discretion. This commitment was communicated in several venues and at multiple times prior to the vote. Councilwoman Endres also noted that several City Council members at the time requested detailed information on the proposed projects, but were never provided that detail. Mayor Bodker responded that he provided the best information he had at the time, and only learned later that was not the case. City residents expressed their frustrations with the changing commitment.

The Jones Bridge Road T-SPLOST is moving toward the Concept Phase. Will we have the opportunity to explore different options to select the best solution, or will we be force-fit into simple lane widening? Council debate and resident comments included.

Another point that was brought up in the November 5th meeting was the possibility of engaging with a professor from Kennesaw State University, who in discussions with Councilman Jay Lin and Councilman Steve Broadbent, to perform some traffic modeling and visualization work. During the November 26th meeting, Public Works Director Lynette Baker stated that City Staff had decided to decline the assistance since the professor lives in the Jones Bridge Road area, and “is not a proponent of the project”. The implication to that decision is that the professor would be incapable of avoiding bias in the work. Another implication that could be read into the dismissal of that help is that opinions that are not deemed to be supportive of the project are not welcomed.

Councilman Bradberry made reference to a metaphor that has been used frequently at Council meetings: the suggestion that they “Take the journey”. He questioned whether the “destination” was already decided, and therefore the “journey” was simply a strategy to mollify dissenting objectives while marching toward the inevitable goal. Given the discussion, Councilman Bradberry’s question warrants an honest answer.

If we “take the journey”, is the final destination already decided? Is the ONLY solution open for consideration road widening to four lanes?

The debate lines were clearly drawn around one camp in favor of limiting the Concept Phase to only the four lane option (Mayor Bodker, Councilman Broadbent), and another camp in favor of exploring a handful of options (Councilman Zaprowski, Councilman Lin, Councilman Bradberry, Councilwoman Endres, and Councilman Couglin). The final vote was 5 - 2 in favor of authorizing City Staff to begin the Concept Phase with the objective of presenting several options.

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We made an observation made after the November 5th meeting that requires renewed consideration. At that time, we wrote:

“On the whole, the conversation at this Work Session was positive, with several members expressing their appreciation for the open and honest discussion.  This holds promise for residents so that we don’t find ourselves being force-fit into predefined ‘solutions’ that may not deliver the benefits we all seek.”

Why does all of this inside baseball matter and why does it matter so much for Johns Creek?  It matters because if the residents, through their elected representatives, can secure the right for the public to truly be engaged and to pursue these projects with an open mind, it will set a precedent.  The process by which this short little segment of Jones Bridge Rd is decided will wash across all other future TSPLOST projects. Will we be open to studying options and selecting the best solutions, or are we destined to live with single options that are already defined and sold to voters under what now turns out to be false promises?