Roadway improvement to begin

By Justin Boron

The path is clear to begin roadway improvements aimed at alleviating congestion on Lovejoy Road and Tara Boulevard intersection, where Wal-Mart expects to open sometime in January, the county transportation and development director said.

The state Department of Transportation has signed off on the plans, right of way acquisition is in its final stages, and Tuesday the county commission voted to approve more than $500,000 in Special Local Option Sales Tax funds that include the project.

However, the six-month timeline for the project will not coordinate with Wal-Mart's plans to hold its grand opening on Jan. 26, said Wayne Patterson, the director of transportation.

The failure of efforts to correspond the two projects' completion places the homes, apartments, and businesses surrounding the new Wal-Mart in, what one transportation official has called, "an undesirable traffic situation."

Current traffic volume estimates for the intersection are 62,000 cars per day on Tara Boulevard and 12,000 cars per day on Lovejoy Road, Patterson said.

Wal-Mart expects an increase in traffic volume once the store opens, but has no plans to help curb congestion, said Glen Wilkins, the company's community relations representative for Georgia.

Andy Adams, the assistant director of transportation and development, had expressed hopes three weeks ago that the realignment project would be off the ground in time for the new store's opening, saying the project's lack of coordination could present "an undesirable traffic situation."

But because of holdouts on property acquisition and initial resistance from the state about the plan's pedestrian crossings, residents along the corridor could face more delays at an already congested intersection.

Mayor Joe Murphy of Lovejoy said the city would do all it could to accommodate the residents located off Lovejoy Road, but would wait until conditions arise before implementing any measures to help with congestion.

One alternative residents have for access to Tara Boulevard is Panhandle Road, Murphy said.

Residents of subdivisions like the Registry could have to travel west on Lovejoy Road around to Panhandle Road and avoid the long lines of cars waiting to turn onto Tara Boulevard, he said.

Despite Wal-Mart's assurances that it will be open in January, some officials have doubts.

Patterson said other than the store's grand opening, it would take some time before the new Wal-Mart would accumulate the kind of customer volume that would cause congestion.

"I don't see the store flooded with customers right away," he said.

Wilkins said he has seen a lag period in some new stores, but that quite often, new stores are barraged with customers from the time the doors open.

Murphy said he believes the store might not even be open by its expected date.

"They've got a long way to go," he said. "They're still installing refrigeration equipment."