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Leaders discuss ways to move transportation forward

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The Henry County Chamber of Commerce is joining with Dr. Michael Meyer, director of the Georgia Transportation Institute at Georgia Tech, in spreading the word about the county's Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

Meyer helped leaders craft the plan last year, as a way to accommodate a growing number of residents in Henry. One notable area of the region's transportation woes, he noted, is reflected in the number of commuters traveling in and through Henry.

"A large number of people, who live in Henry County, actually work outside [the area]," said Meyer. "That means a lot of people are moving long distances on the county's road system. This results in high levels of congestion."

The director said the county's problems are made worse by a road system which is "not equipped" to handle more traffic. He said the county's plan outlined a strategy which can fix the problem.

"[The plan showed] where roads should be widened or built, and identified possible new transit routes and other improvements, such as pedestrian bicycle facilities," he said. "Providing these ... services will be critical for the future of Henry County."

In addition, Meyer said other elements of county leaders' plans must be taken into consideration, including land use and urban development. "Experience has shown that fast-growing counties, like Henry, are more successful when the pattern of development is compatible with transportation, and vice versa."

The director also touched on the issue of a proposed commuter rail through Henry County. Although he said a rail system is not a cure-all in itself, it is a "strategy that is worthwhile" to consider in efforts to improve transportation in Henry.

Still, Meyer said before transportation can improve in the county, one vital piece of the puzzle must be in place - funding for those projects. "All plans are worthless, unless there's money to build," he said. "In my opinion, this region has been in a deficit position for decades. There must be a regional source of transportation funds to reduce this deficit."

He said "a lot of ideas," have been discussed as to how to improve options for residents, but added that local leaders need to get onboard in bringing those ideas to fruition. "I don't think we can rely on the state to do what's necessary," said Meyer. "From my understanding, the county is moving ahead, but limited funding constrains what the county can do."

He said the county is making a "smart move" by using funds gained from the third installment of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, to complete intersection improvements. Still, Meyer said county leaders can do more to link future development with investments in transportation.

Chamber of Commerce President Kay Pippin said her organization has been "active" in addressing congestion in the area. She commended county officials for having the foresight to develop a plan to improve transportation. "Not every suburban community has [such a] plan," said Pippin. "It should serve as a blueprint for working our way out of congestion, and planning for the future."

Pippin said because "roads don't just end at the Henry County line, officials must take into account the effect proposed improvements will have on the surrounding region."

In the meantime, the Chamber's transportation committee is continuing to push for a number of projects to be initiated in Henry. The group's chairman, Andy Welch, said the "most immediate need" lies in the diversity of transportation options available to residents.

"We really need to provide other transportation modes, whether by carpooling, the commuter rail or a bus service," he said. "We need to provide [people] with options for reliable transportation, to improve their quality of life."

Welch said the Chamber has been advocating for more than a year, for several projects to be undertaken in the county. These include the addition of general purpose and HOV lanes on Interstate 75 through Henry County, and the widening of Ga. Highway 42 to either a four- or six-lane road.

All plans for local roads in Henry are contained in the county's Comprehensive Transportation Plan.