Traffic solutions sought

By Diane Wagner

Theresa Davidson has plenty of suggestions for fixing the area's transportation problems: bus service, HOV lanes, flex-hours for businesses and more.

They spring into her mind unbidden, each workday, while she's stuck in traffic between her Hampton home and her Atlanta job.

"My first choice is always less traffic," Davidson said with a laugh. "Unfortunately, that's not going to happen."

The region grew by about a million people over the last 10 years and forecasts indicate another 2.3 million residents will somehow squeeze in by 2030.

That's why the Atlanta Regional Commission is hosting a series of Mobility 2030 forums to highlight the looming challenges and to seek suggestions from the traveling public.

"It's important to get early input," ARC Senior Planner John Orr said. "We do have some proposals to present, but we're still at a stage in the planning process where we can change directions."

A session is scheduled for Monday night at the Clayton County Administration Building, 112 Smith St, in Jonesboro. Representatives will also be in Stockbridge on Tuesday, at the Merle Manders Conference Center, 111 Davis Road.

Both meetings start at 5:30 p.m. A formal presentation is slated for 6 p.m., followed by an informal discussion period lasting until 7:30 p.m.

Gerry Adams lives in Henry County and works in Clayton County. It was partly the frustrating drive that led him to launch a campaign last year that netted him the District IV Henry County Board of Commissioners seat.

"I told everyone I had three issues," he said. "Traffic, traffic and traffic. In that order."

As a commissioner, Adams continues to push for road improvements, especially upgrades at dangerous intersections. But he also realizes they won't be enough in the long run.

"Traffic will move better with intersection improvements but, to be realistic, there will probably be a public transportation system in our future," he said. "If we're going to grow at this rate, we'll have to do more. I mean, how many roads can you pave?"

A regional transit system is one of the concepts set for airing at the forums. A draft proposal calls for a network of high-speed buses operating in HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes on the freeways and special "queue-jumper" lanes on arterial roads.

Davidson said she's all for bus or train service, but the stations must be safe and conveniently located?and the price has to be right.

"I'm not talking about $15 each way," she said. "We have vanpools at work, but they've gone up so much that some people are dropping out because it's cheaper to drive."

Another concept up for discussion is the expansion of bike lanes, sidewalks and multi-use pathways. City Manager Bob Zellner said traffic jams are rare in Hampton, but the city is already at work on a sidewalk program.

"We don't really have traffic problems now, but we have to start planning because that day will come," he said. "The idea is to get sidewalks in to connect these new subdivisions to downtown."

Orr said transportation planners will collect comments and suggestions from the public at the local meetings to create an "aspiration plan." Then they'll use computer-modeling tests to analyze how traffic would be improved.

In 2004, they'll start prioritizing the list to reflect the amount of funding actually available, and the ARC will adopt that list as its 2030 Regional Transportation Plan.