Transportation Forum: Future is now when it comes to roads planning
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Coweta County and its cities are beginning the process of updating the 20-year joint comprehensive transportation plan, and despite the timing, the plan has nothing to do with the proposed one-percent sales tax for transportation projects.
Coweta County Administrator Theron Gay and Transportation Planner Tavores Edwards talked about the transportation plan and transportation needs at a forum held Monday at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce.
But “today’s session is not about TSPLOST. It is about our transportation plan here in Coweta,” McEntire said.
The first comprehensive transportation plan (CTP) was begun in 2005, in conjunction with the “Be Something Different” series of public meetings and surveys done for the update of the county’s comprehensive land use plan.
The current plan is on the county’s website, www.coweta.ga.us , and can be downloaded, as can most other planning-related documents. “You can find it, print it, see what’s in it,” McEntire said. “These gentlemen will talk to you a little bit about specifics.”
The plan represents about $408 million worth of transportation projects, in 2006 dollars.
“A lot of the roads and bridges that we travel on now were built when the population in our county was 40,000 or 50,000,” said McEntire.
“We know that our county is going to continue to grow and because of that, we think, as a Chamber, that is it important that we keep an eye on our transportation needs andÂ¦ our local and state officials to make sure our roads are updated,” McEntire said.
Several times during the meeting, comparisons were made between Coweta and Gwinnett counties. Downtown Newnan is only a few miles farther from the state capitol than downtown Lawrenceville is, McEntire said. The counties are almost the same size, with Coweta being slightly bigger.
“Hopefully, we’ll never get to the 800,000” population Gwinnett has, McEntire said, but Coweta will be adding people. The current population of Coweta is approximately 127,000. Estimates are for that to rise to 250,000 by 2040.
“We will get to 200,000, 250,000, maybe even 300,000, in a lot of y’all’s lifetimes,” McEntire said. “To plan for that, a lot of things in this plan need to be addressed.”
Many of the major projects of the past few years, including the Interstate 85 improvement project and the Hwy. 34 Bypass widening, were state funded. “Now TSPLOST was the state legislature’s attempt at bringing in a new revenue stream,” McEntire said.
When it comes to Coweta’s transportation plan, “regardless of state funding, regardless of what happens with that, our transportation needs remain constant here in Coweta,” said Gay.
“The funding sources, time frame, and priorities will change, just as they have throughout the years,” Gay said. “But the needs and plans will remain the same,” Gay said.
Coweta’s transportation planning goes back to the 1980s, Gay said. “Every year we review what our needs are,” he said.
In the early 90s, Coweta had a big focus on transportation, particularly with bridges and road improvements, Gay said. The county used funds from the local Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, plus participation from the Georgia Department of Transportation, “to fund that initial program,” he said. “That was our biggest kick-off program that we had, in terms of transportation,” Gay said. “Since that time, transportation has always been a major component of our local SPLOST.”
“We’ve always included that since then, as we started to look at our needs and how to fund the county’s portion of it,” he said.
The CTP included “upgrades we believe are needed in the short and long term,” Gay said.
“Some of the plan is funded and some of it is not,” Gay said. “It’s always been that way,” he said. “All of us have plans we’d like to do 20 years from now,” he said. “You work toward it and you get to your plan. That is a lot like our transportation plan. It’s not totally funded today, it never has been totally funded.”
Transportation planning can’t be looked at in a bubble, Gay said. “You’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” he said. Development, air quality, financial resources and other factors all play an integral role, he said.
The county’s 2005-2006 CTP was the first in the region to be coordinated with the comprehensive land use plan, Edwards said.
The existing plan includes three transit projects, six bike and pedestrian projects, 30 roadway capacity projects (usually widening), and 106 operation, safety, and bridge projects.
Some of the major projects include new Interstate 85 interchanges at Poplar Road and Amlajack Boulevard, widening and improvements on Ga. Hwy. 154, completion of both legs of the bypass to entirely encircle the city of Newnan, widening Poplar Road, a new “east west connector” between U.S. 29 and Bullsboro in the Madras area, and several intersection improvements and bridge upgrades.
Some of the projects on the plan have already been completed or are in the works, including the county’s “dial a ride” transit system — which provides transportation for the elderly and disabled as well as anyone else who needs it — intersection improvements at Greison Trail and Lower Fayetteville Road, and the bypass widening project.
Edwards estimated it will take 12-15 months to complete the plan update.
The update will include cost revisions and possibly new projects, as well as possibly removing projects from the current plan.
One thing the county really wants to achieve “as we did with the current plan, is to have a detailed community engagement piece so that we can get the public’s feedback,” Edwards said.
One important aspect of Coweta’s transportation work is maintenance of the existing system.
The current CTP “doesn’t include a lot of the rehab or the paving that we have scheduled,” Gay said. “Up until now we haven’t had that in the plan,” he said. “Now we’re starting to look at that as a major component.”
There are roughly 900 miles of county-maintained roads in Coweta. Each road is graded every year, Gay said. On average, a paved road needs to be repaired or replaced every 15 years, Gay said. “So we should average 60 miles a year,” he said. “We’re not anywhere near that.”
Money for road maintenance is a major component of the 2013 SPLOST, which was approved by voters in March.
“So we’re going to try to pump those dollars into here every year, to be able to maintain and improve our roadways,” Gay said. “It is much more cost-effective if you can get out in front and repair the road before it gets into such a dilapidated state. Then it takes a lot longer to repair that road.”
With both roads and bridges, “delaying maintenance sometimes increases the cost,” Gay said.
“The bottom line is — planning is key,” he said.
But plans are “made to be fluid” and priorities change. “What is important today may not be the top priority 20 years from now,” Gay said. That’s one reason that community involvement is important.
“Give us your thoughts, give us your ideas on what you feel like needs to be done in terms of transportation,” Gay said.