State focusing on buses, official tells Clayton County

By Justin Reedy

The state hasn't written off a commuter rail line between Macon and Atlanta, but it will be focusing on other forms of transit in the Southern Crescent and the rest of the metro area, a state official told county leaders Tuesday.

That shift in state policy since the beginning of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue's administration this year has some worried that the south side's economy could take a hit from a delay in the rail system. But some local residents are pleased about proposed road widening projects that could help relieve traffic congestion in the county.

Jim Ritchey, the acting executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, briefed the Clayton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday on the GRTA's Regional Transit Action Plan, the state's long term plan for transit in metro Atlanta.

The plan calls for a combination of better traffic coordination, arterial road improvements, expansion of high-occupancy vehicle interstate lanes and express buses n all of which are aimed at unclogging congested roads and highways throughout metro Atlanta.

The traffic coordination program will rely on working with the many jurisdictions in the metro area to get better synchronized traffic lights and other connections between counties and cities, Ritchey said.

"The real goal is to identify intersections that will make an immediate impact on traffic congestion," Ritchey said.

The HOV lane expansion includes extending the lanes on the south side on Interstate 75 to McDonough, Ritchey said, and several arterial road projects in Clayton County. Additional lanes will be added to Conley Road, Aviation Boulevard, Anvilblock Road, Flint River Road and Tara Road under the state's arterial road program.

Getting some of those roads widened will help solve some traffic problems in the area, residents say.

"They need to widen (Flint River Road) and repave it," said Jonesboro resident Cassundra Jett, who travels that road often to visit her aunt. "Adding more lanes would help."

The state's plan for transportation also calls for an express bus service that encompasses 11 metro area counties, including Clayton and Henry counties. GRTA has shifted its focus to that system n and away from rail solutions n because of its cost-effectiveness and short implementation time.

"We're trying to develop transit quickly to deal with traffic congestion," Ritchey told county commissioners.

But Commissioner Charley Griswell criticized the state for not extending transit options as far into Clayton County as in other metro counties. The express bus route that comes down Tara Boulevard and stops in Jonesboro should be extended through Clayton County and into Spalding County, Griswell said.

"Why is it you come to us on the south side and cut it off at Jonesboro," Griswell said. "But you can run it to Newnan in Coweta County, and to Conyers on the east side and to Cumming in the north. After 30 years, it's the same thing n look after the other side of town and we'll take care of y'all later."

Ritchey responded that the bus route would be extended further south later in the program.

The state has been criticized by some business leaders and economic experts over its decision to put the commuter rail line on the back burner. The Macon-to-Atlanta line would promote business development along its corridor and give a true alternative for commuters on the south side, according to Shane Moody, president of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

"I hate to see anything that puts our commuter rail line on hold or delays the development of it any further," Moody said. "The commuter rail line coming from the south side of Atlanta would help reduce traffic on the interstate, because it would be a convenient way to get downtown, or to the airport."