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Fast-track road projects set for derailing

By Diane Wagner

The widening of traffic-clogged Eagle's Landing Parkway in Stockbridge is just one of the promised "fast track" transportation projects headed for a brick wall.

Another is near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: the planned extension of Aviation Boulevard to Conley Road.

State funding for a number of projects in Henry and Clayton counties will be deferred under a proposed amendment to the regional Transportation Improvement Program. The Atlanta Regional Commission's transportation and air quality committee approved a resolution of support on Thursday.

"You'd better believe this old boy is hot," an angry Henry County Commission Chairman Leland Maddox said Friday. "The county manager is in the process of setting up meetings right now. I don't know if I can do anything about it, but I'll get somebody's ear."

ARC Chairman Crandle Bray, who also chairs the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, was in Savannah on Friday for a conference. Bray said he had time only for a quick comment, but noted that the full board is not scheduled to vote on the recommendations until Dec. 3.

"We'll take a look at it and see what it is," he said.

CLAYTON COUNTY

Most of Clayton's fast-tracked projects would be pushed back a few months but remain in the short-term program.

Preliminary engineering for the widening of Tara Road, Flint River Road, Anvil Block Road and Conley Road would be funded in fiscal year 2004, and some right-of-way money would be available the following cycle. Right-of-way funding to replace the historic bridge on Rex Road would come in mid-2004.

The county was expecting about $6.5 million for surveillance cameras, fiber optic cable, traffic signals and other tools for its Advanced Transportation Management System. Funding for a master plan traffic study would be in the upcoming budget, but only $950,000 for the tools is scheduled for fiscal year 2005.

HENRY COUNTY

In contrast, the proposed amendments would knock most of Henry's pet projects into the long-range arena.

In addition to delaying Eagle's Landing Parkway improvements, the new TIP would defer funding for the widening of Rock Quarry Road and the extensions of East Lake Road and Campground Road.

"It comes as shock," McDonough resident Beverly Wittler said.

Wittler said she avoids making business appointments in the north end of the county during rush hours. Her daughter, who works on Eagle's Landing Parkway, sometimes needs a half-hour to make a 10-minute drive, she said.

"I thought they really needed this for the hospital," Wittler added, voicing community concerns about accessibility to Henry Medical Center.

The relocation of Ga. Highway 20, already under construction, would not be affected. Funding would also be available in mid-2004 for the extension of Patrick Henry Parkway.

BUS SERVICE

When Roy Barnes was governor in 2002, state officials promised fast-tracked funding for the projects in exchange for a commitment to participate in a regional bus service.

Henry County chipped in $1.8 million to pull down $22.5 million in other transportation funding. Clayton County's $2.45 million ante was supposed to net nearly $29 million.

At one point Maddox withheld part of Henry County's payment, when Gov. Sonny Perdue took office in 2003 and the funding looked iffy. But reassurances were forthcoming as late as September.

"They said they'd do this if we paid for the buses, and we paid our share," Maddox said. "We've got another payment due to (the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) but, before we make it, I'm going to find out what's going on."

COMMUTER RAIL

The pending amendment also puts commuter rail service between Atlanta and Macon on a back burner.

The proposal recommends dropping to $4 million the $14.5 million for preliminary engineering that is included in the state's fiscal year 2004 bond program. Other phases of the project would be rescheduled for long-range planning.

The route would bring train stations to the cities of Hampton, Lovejoy, Jonesboro, Morrow and Forest Park.

Forest Park City Manager Bill Werner said the proposed station was "one of the legs of the stool" in the city's revitalization plan. An upgrade at the State Farmers Market, the downtown Main Street program and the realignment of the gate at Fort Gillem all play into the picture.

But Werner said promises of funding for the commuter rail service typically mirrored the state of the economy, and local officials would take the set-back in stride.

"Our planning for revitalization will continue," he said. "We have plenty of projects to work on in the meantime."