Plan­ning for the fu­ture

Study to ex­am­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties for lo­cal pub­lic trans­porta­tion

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Oswald

More than any other fac­tor, the healthy growth of New­ton County will be de­ter­mined by how well its trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture is de­vel­oped over the next five to 20 years.

A county wide com­pre­hen­sive trans­porta­tion study — funded by the At­lanta Re­gional Com­mis­sion, with the sup­port of the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers and aided by The Cen­ter for Com­mu­nity Preser­va­tion and Plan­ning — has just be­gun and will con­tinue over the next year and a half.

The study will not only look at the county’s main thor­ough­fares such as Salem Road, Ga. High­way 142 and U.S. High­way 278, but it will also ex­am­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties for pub­lic trans­porta­tion and the ex­ten­sion of ex­ist­ing side­walks/trails sys­tems to en­cour­age greater con­nec­tiv­ity.

The study kicked off pub­licly at a meet­ing Thurs­day night at The Cen­ter. Ap­prox­i­mately 40 New­ton County res­i­dents, in­clud- ing county com­mis­sion­ers, city coun­cil mem­bers and one state sen­a­tor gath­ered to voice their ideas about how they would like to see the county’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem de­vel­oped.

Ten­sions were high as res­i­dents de­bated the need to raise taxes in or­der to fund trans­porta­tion projects in the county and across the state.

At one point Cov­ing­ton Mayor Sam Ram­sey stood up to make an im­pas­sioned speech to the gath­ered crowd and to State Sen­a­tor John Douglas (R-Cov­ing­ton), who was in at­ten­dance. Douglas has been a vo­cal op­po­nent of var­i­ous pro­pos­als in the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly to cut taxes by do­ing away with ad val­oreum taxes and de­creas­ing the state sales tax on gaso­line.

“It ir­ri­tates the day­lights out of me,” Ram­sey said of the idea that the state could af­ford to cut taxes when the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion is cur­rently fac­ing a $7.7 bil­lion short­fall. “That is ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous for any­body in their right mind to say that. Ya’ll don’t lis­ten to this rhetoric cause that’s all it is.”

Ram­sey added that he sym­pa­thized with the BOC, who had to scram­ble at the be­gin­ning of the year to re­al­lo­cate ap­prox­i­mately $20 mil­lion from other road projects to the pur­chase of right of way for the long de­layed Salem Road widen­ing project, af­ter GDOT an­nounced that the fund­ing for the project was in­def­i­nitely de­layed.

Dis­trict 3 Com­mis­sioner Ester Flem­ing sec­onded the sen­ti­ments of Ram­sey.

“We (the BOC) can’t raise taxes high enough to take care of the road in­fra­struc­ture. Funds are be­ing cut. We need more peo­ple talk­ing to our state leg­is­la­tures,” Flem­ing said.

County En­gi­neer Kevin Wal­ter said that by tak­ing mat­ters into its own hands to re­di­rect fund­ing to the Salem Road project, the county had a bet­ter chance of see­ing more funds al­lo­cated to the project in the fu­ture by GDOT.

“We have a sub­stan­tial start, but we have to lever­age it to get more money,” Wal­ter said.

New­ton County res­i­dent Ge­orge More­land sur­mised many of the au­di­ence’s feel­ings.

“To have ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture we have to have higher taxes, there’s no es­cap­ing it,” More­land said. “Taxes are what we pay for ser­vices. If we want ser­vices we have to pay taxes.”

Thurs­day night’s meet­ing also fo­cused on the county’s need for some form of pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Kay Lee, a com­mu­nity ini­tia­tive en­tre­pre­neur with The Cen­ter, sug­gested that it was in­evitable that com­muter light rail would come to the county within the next 20 years, much to the ex­cite­ment of the gath­ered crowd.

Ram­sey said the city of Cov­ing­ton had al­ready brain- stormed where a rail sta­tion with enough room for park­ing could be built and said it would likely be built be­hind the Kroger shop­ping plaza on U.S. High­way 278

Douglas how­ever, said that the Ge­or­gia leg­is­la­ture cur­rently had no plans to bring light rail through the county.

“At the state level, there has been no dis­cus­sion of putting a rail line par­al­lel to I-20,” Douglas said. “Com­muter rail is very long term at the mo­ment.”

In ad­di­tion to cov­er­ing the en­tire area of New­ton Coun- ty and its five mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the county’s Com­pre­hen­sive Trans­porta­tion Plan will ex­tend for sev­eral miles out­side the bound­aries of the county to in­clude parts of Cony­ers, all of So­cial Cir­cle and all of Wal­nut Grove.

The study will as­sess ex­ist­ing and fu­ture trans­porta­tion needs, es­tab­lish the county’s pri­or­i­ties for mo­bil­ity, safety, con­nec­tiv­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity, pro­vide a long-range guide for ef­fi­cient trans­porta­tion in­vest­ments and pro­mote a uni­fied approach to the plan­ning process.

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