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8-10-05 Gwinnett and Metro Atlanta Looking for Traffic Relief- Years Behind

….Unfortunately, many residents are “bailing out” and “escaping” to Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Newton and Oconee.  That will only create future problems for these counties who have mostly county roads built in the days of Governor Marvin Griffin (1954-58) and his Farm to Market program……



August 8, 2005


Gwinnett and Metro Atlanta Looking for Traffic Relief- Years Behind


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


Anyone driving into Atlanta or Metro Counties in recent years knows about the gridlock and traffic mess.   Most indicators are that it will only get worse.


Some Gwinnett folks have been looking at Fairfax County, VA, and Montgomery County, MD, suburbs of Washington, D.C.  The Gwinnett Daily Post of July 17, 2005, had a good report on the comparisons and points out that Gwinnett and Metro-Atlanta are 20 years behind in dealing with Rail and other traffic modes necessary in a large bustling metropolis.


Some visionary leaders, like E. H. Culpepper of Athens, and Wayne Hill of Gwinnett have seen the problem for years.  However, Atlanta is sprawled for long distances.  Neighborhoods can quickly organize to oppose projects that may alleviate the problem.


To have a prosperous future, Gwinnett and Metro-Atlanta must deal with traffic.   It will eventually grind to a halt.  In 40 years of driving in Metro-Atlanta, it is harder now to get anywhere than it was in 1962.


Unfortunately, many residents are “bailing out” and “escaping” to Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Newton and Oconee.  That will only create future problems for these counties who have mostly county roads built in the days of Governor Marvin Griffin (1954-58) and his Farm to Market program.  These roads are not built for or capable of handling the increasing residential traffic.  Not many of these counties have much long range transportation planning or funding to work on the challenges.


Gridlock and congestion will eventually require some solutions.  It may be a long time coming and then with a huge price tag.


Frankly, it would help if there were trains going along the Interstates and some cross lines to allow negotiating of the City- so folks do not need a car. 


7-17-05 Gwinnett County, Traffic and Washington D. C. Area


The Gwinnett Daily Post



July 17, 2005


Washington-area counties pursue mix of roads, rail

By Dave Williams
ROCKVILLE, Md. - Passenger rail lines crisscross Montgomery County, an affluent fast-growing part of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Riders can travel into "the District," as the nation's capital is known, on a MARC commuter train or on the Metro, an above-ground train that becomes a subway inside Washington. In each case, they have 11 stations to choose from.

With so much rail, what's on the front burner for transportation planners in the county of 930,000? An inter county highway connector.

Across the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Va., commuters have easier highway access into Washington via two interstate highways, and a massive multiyear interchange overhaul is two years from scheduled completion.

What's next for that county of just more than 1 million residents? Extending the Metro rail system to Dulles International Airport.

Whether you're talking to planners, business leaders or transportation administrators in Montgomery or Fairfax, the key to building the future is the same.

"The only solution is a balanced approach, transit where transit makes sense and roads where roads make sense," said Rich Parsons, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in downtown Rockville. "There's always going to be a need for a mix."

That mix is notably absent in Gwinnett County. With a population of 700,000, Gwinnett is about two decades behind the two suburban Washington counties on the growth chart. But some argue it's lagging even further in transportation planning.

Gwinnett started a bus system several years ago, running six express routes along Interstate 85 - often with standing room only - and five local routes. It is dwarfed, however, by the 115 routes operated by two bus systems in Montgomery County and the 150 routes offered by two systems in Fairfax…….

Gwinnett voters rejected bringing the MARTA system into the county in 1971 and again in 1990, part of a public policy debate that has occupied the region for decades.

"The problem that has plagued metro Atlanta, including Gwinnett County, is the fact that the population is so spread out," said David Doss, chairman of the State Transportation Board. "There is not a transit system on the planet designed to accommodate the lower density numbers in metro Atlanta."

On the other side are those who say a comprehensive passenger rail network must be part of Gwinnett's future if the county is to continue to thrive.

"At current rates of auto use in Gwinnett County, you simply will not be able to build roads fast enough to meet the demand," said Chris Nelson, director of urban affairs and planning for Virginia Tech's Alexandria Center, who knows the Atlanta area from having spent 15 years at Georgia Tech. "You're guaranteed a future of congestion and gridlock."

Planning rail

Planning and construction of Washington's Metro and Atlanta's MARTA systems began at about the same time - in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But planners in the Washington region were looking at much steeper population growth projections at the time and reacted accordingly.

"Very early on, there was strong leadership that recognized the need, in the nation's capital, to be able to move people quickly and efficiently," said Nat Ford, general manager of MARTA. "With MARTA, you had that same initial visionary leadership. ... Unfortunately, somewhere between then and now, that same strong leadership hasn't evolved."

Construction of the Washington's Metro system as originally designed was finally completed just a few years ago. The network boasts five color-coded lines, stretching from Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland throughout Washington, then into Alexandria, Va., Arlington County and well into Fairfax.

Next, starting in the early 1990s, the region took passenger rail service to the next level with Maryland's MARC commuter rail system and its Virginia counterpart, the Virginia Railway Express.

For a steeper price but with a bit more comfort, commuters can travel into Washington from as far away as Fredericksburg, Va., some 50 miles south, and even from Martinsburg, W.Va., 90 miles west of the capital.

E.H. Culpepper, of Athens, a member of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, has long been a leading proponent of a commuter rail line connecting Atlanta with Athens via Gwinnett County. He sees the line as a way to connect two of Georgia's top research universities, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University.

"The toll issue on (Ga. Highway) 316 has muddied the water on how that road is going to be upgraded," Culpepper said, referring to the strong opposition to financing those highway improvements with tolls on existing lanes. "We've got this passenger-rail corridor that ... has certain economic development and land-use planning opportunities that are unique."

Backers of the Atlanta-to-Athens line now are keeping a close eye on plans to launch a commuter rail line next year linking Atlanta and Lovejoy, the first leg of a planned route to Macon.

There's $6 million in federal funds and $2 million from the state available for the project. But the Federal Highway Administration has made it clear that it wants its money back if the Lovejoy line doesn't make enough money to stay in business.

"What you're looking at is an $6 million gamble," said Doss.
Just last week, the City Council in Hampton, which is located along the planned line, voted to reject building a train station there.

Rail expansion

Officials in Fairfax County also are unhappy with passenger rail but for a different reason. They can't get enough of it……... "You can't go from Washington to the Washington airport on the subway. How ridiculous is that?"

To remedy the situation, construction is under way on an expansion of the Metro system from Falls Church to Dulles………

Road strategies

Of more immediate impact in Fairfax will be the planned completion in 2007 of the Mixing Bowl, a massive restructuring of the interchange at Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway in Springfield, a larger version of Spaghetti Junction in DeKalb County just south of the Gwinnett line………

Elsewhere on the major Fairfax highways, motorists encounter many of the same congestion-busting methods in use in Gwinnett County today or likely to be in its future. The list includes high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and so-called "flex lanes," the use of paved shoulders as an extra lane of traffic during rush hours……..

Ichter said a private company also is proposing to build high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, an idea that also is part of road-improvement plans for the Atlanta region.

While they're frequently referred to as "Lexus lanes" because they charge single motorists a toll for driving in a high-occupancy lane, Ichter envisions anyone in a hurry using them from time to time.

"With young children to be picked up or an appointment to keep, your time becomes more valuable than your money in certain situations," she said………..

At one time, there were visions of two outer beltways to join the one that actually got built.
Also falling by the wayside were plans for a second Potomac River crossing west of the heavily traveled American Legion
Bridge, which takes the Capital Beltway across the river a few miles west of Washington.

Parsons, the Montgomery County chamber leader, said the lack of adequate highways is particularly acute on the Maryland side of the river. He said no amount of rail service can make up for that road shortfall because, even in the region with the second highest use of public transit in the nation, only 7 percent to 8 percent of daily trips in the Washington area are on transit.

Challenging hurdles

Parsons said well-heeled local opposition sank the second Potomac bridge, the same fate that deep-sixed the Northern Arc project, the plan to link I-85 in Gwinnett County with I-75 in Bartow County.

"The only way highways get built is when traffic gets so bad that people can't stand it any longer," he said.

Now, the Montgomery chamber is supporting the Inter-County Connector, in effect a piece of one of the outer beltways that didn't get built. ……… bridge by 2020.

"This kind of congestion will cripple the local economy. People will leave," Parsons said.
"It has to happen because the area's economy won't remain viable without it."

Like Parsons, transportation planners in the Atlanta region lean toward highway improvements rather than rail as the road to congestion relief.

Doss pointed to preliminary results from a study of converting HOV lanes to truck-only lanes that predicted it would reduce traffic congestion by 38 percent.

"We've got a network (of HOV lanes) already started," he said. "We're talking years away on other things."

Steve Stancil, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, likes the idea of running buses down HOV lanes that would be separated by barriers from the rest of traffic.

"It's much less expensive than heavy rail ... (and) you can have the flexibility to make changes to go where people want to go," he said.

But David Edgerley, director of economic development in transit-heavy Montgomery County, said planners can't afford to focus solely on highways and ignore passenger rail.

"I was an old-schooler myself for many years," he said. "(But) if you look at modern new urban concepts of development, (rail) is fundamental to building the community of tomorrow. ... Don't close your eyes to it or you may get bypassed."