By Justin Boron
Katherine Ellis' drive to her job in Hampton is a smooth sail down the southbound lanes of Tara Boulevard.
But before she can get on the main thoroughfare through Clayton County, she must wait, gridlocked at the intersection of Tara and McDonough roads.
Tara Road receives an average traffic count of about 9,300 cars a day, said Andy Adams, the assistant director of transportation and development for Clayton County.
And its two ends on Tara Boulevard and McDonough Road become paralyzed with congestion at peak commuting hours, he said.
"Traffic in the morning coming out of the road onto Tara Boulevard backs up nearly half a mile," Adams said. "There is tremendous peak hour traffic."
But state and local traffic officials hope an elaborate overhaul of the artery, which serves dozens of 150- to 250-home subdivisions, will alleviate congestion and enhance safety along the three-mile stretch of the road.
The Georgia Department of Transportation unveiled its plans estimated at $2.3 million for the road Thursday at an informational meeting at Hawthorne Elementary School.
The project will be funded through a state bond program created during the administration of former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Elongated poster board stretching across the school's gymnasium showed plans to add sidewalks on each side of the road, a middle turning lane and possibly three new traffic lights.
The three lights planned for Folsom Road, English Road and McDonough Road must meet specifications set by the state before they can be approved, said Mike Davidson, the project manager for GDOT.
"Any time we can separate people from traffic the better," he said.
Davidson was confident the lights would make it into the plan.
"We are showing them here because we expect them to be in there," he said.
The sidewalks to be laid all along the road will have about a 6-foot grass buffer between the walkway and the curb, said Brad McManus, an assistant group leader for GDOT.
The middle lane will provide a safer way for cars to turn left off the road and prevent them from backing up traffic, Davidson said.
All of the changes, transportation officials say, will improve the thoroughfare's D-category on a scale from A to F that rates a road's capacity.
The immediate effect will put the road at about a B grade, Davidson said.
But by the year 2027, the grade will be back at level D, which isn't as bad as it sounds, he said.
If no improvements occur, the road's ability to handle increasing capacity would continue to decline into the E-category, Davidson said.
One of the project's drawbacks is that officials will have to acquire about 50 pieces of private property, some of which have driveways right on Tara Road, putting their homes tangentially close to cars speeding by.
No residents will be displaced from their homes.
The construction period for the project is estimated at 18 to 24 months, he said.
But it will not begin any time soon since the county still has to line up contractors for the construction and acquire the necessary property, which usually takes at least six to 12 months, Davidson said.
Area residents were cautiously optimistic at the meeting.
Ellis, who lives in the Lee's Ridge subdivision, said there are still some things that need to be done, such as straightening blind curves where accidents have occurred.
"It's a step in the right direction, though," she said.