By Justin Boron
Traffic can clog a Jonesboro artery in a heartbeat.
At around 5 p.m., Jo Lynne McEwen walks out of her store Simple Pleasures and watches a close to empty road transform into a stream of cars, idling up and down S. Main Street.
"It'll happen just like that," she said.
From the sidewalk, the intermittent flow of traffic looks prime for business exposure.
An average of 19,000 cars pass down the road each day, traffic reports say.
But few of the cars pull into one of McEwen's two reserved parking spots to browse the apparel in her eclectic craft shop.
Cars come into the city, jamming up the roads and pumping exhaust into the air.
"They just don't come for the city," said Jon Walker, the Jonesboro city manager.
The future of the fragile downtown economy could be permanently affected by a series of proposed projects aimed at funneling cars through Jonesboro quicker.
Downtown Jonesboro is a major point of intersection for commuters heading toward Tara Boulevard, producing heavy congestion on its narrow streets.
To remedy the traffic woes, the city is considering 13 transportation projects resulting from a traffic study conducted by Precision Planning, Inc.
The $25,000 study looked at the traffic patterns in the downtown area from South Avenue to North Avenue and recommended several roadway enhancements based on anticipated traffic volumes of 2009.
Michael Alligood, who conducted the study, said the road changes would be critical for the arrival of the commuter rail in 2006.
The most immediate, potential change would be making Main Street and McDonough Street a one-way pair between Spring Street and College Street, Walker said.
The one-ways could be implemented as early as nine months from their approval if funds from the Special Local Option Sales Tax are available.
Under the proposed traffic conditions, a trip from the south side of the city would require that cars stop at the College Street intersection and turn right onto McDonough Street to head north.
The study estimates that the one-ways will reduce the time it takes to move through downtown to about a minute.
But access to the offices, banks, and shops on Main Street will be limited to southbound traffic.
A car heading north would have to take McDonough Street to Spring Street, where it would turn around to access a business on Main Street.
The one-way pair also would take away from the area's small supply of parking spots, Walker said.
McEwen said she worries that the combination of limited access and reduced parking could throw her business into a precarious state.
"I can't figure out any way that I'm not going to be toast," she said. "It's hard to envision how it will affect me. It's hard to believe it's going to be positive."
Others who have offices on the downtown strip also said the one-way pair would be a poor alternative to the current situation.
"It wouldn't be a good idea because it would be even harder to find parking," said Terri Clifton, a paralegal for Stillwell & Associates.
Walker said he wasn't leaning for or against the project but had concerns about the change's impact on economic development.
"A one-way pair does ease traffic movement but it may not necessarily be the best for the city," he said. "You can make it too easy for the traffic to move through town."
Mayor Joy Day of Jonesboro also voiced similar reservations about the one-way pair even though she said similar changes in other cities, like her hometown Thomaston, have successfully reduced traffic.
"I would prefer that it not become a one-way," she said.
Day also emphasized that the study was not a plan, and the City Council would await public feedback before acting on the transportation options in November.
Other major transportation changes include a tunnel connecting Smith Street to King Street and the extension of Lake Jodeco Road to Ga. Highway 19/41.
The changes would provide two major east-west thoroughfares for the city, Walker said.
With Smith Street envisioned as the "Gateway to Jonesboro," the tunnel would increase traffic access to the courthouse annex from Tara Boulevard without directing cars through the core of downtown, the study says.
The extension of Lake Jodeco Road, which if approved, would take about 10 years to implement, would route cars directly to Tara Boulevard.
The study's intent to route cars around the downtown core raises questions about the city's economic revitalization plans, McEwen said.
Day said she would not do anything to harm business in Jonesboro.
"It's not that we're trying to route them out of the city, it's just that we're trying to make it less of a bottleneck," she said.