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County travel time expected to rise
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Depending on growth assumptions, travel time on the county's most trafficked corridors is expected to more than double by 2030.

That expectation factors in existing and scheduled road improvements including several major road-widening projects.

The majority of future traffic congestion is forecasted to take place on corridors already experiencing a majority of the county's congestion such as Ga. Highway 36, Ga. Highway 81, Ga. Highway 212, Salem Road and Brown Bridge Road.

  At a public meeting on the county's Comprehensive Transportation Plan at the Historic Courthouse Tuesday night, the atmosphere was fairly glum as audience members contemplated a future with even longer traffic wait times after a presentation that included the above statistics.

In 2007, the Newton County Board of Commissioners contracted with URS Corporation for the creation of a CTP to guide county planning decisions in the years to come. A Needs Assessment Report of the county's transportation infrastructure has been completed by URS.

The report includes an evaluation of roadway safety, roadway capacity, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, freight movement and land use within the county. Overall the assessment found that anticipated growth will overburden the county's entire transportation network in the areas of mobility, connectivity and accessibility.

According to the assessment, Ga. Highway 36 and Ga. Highway 212 are currently the county's most congested corridors with travel times ranging from 22 to 28 minutes during peak evening traffic time. Salem Road, Brown Bridge Road and Ga. Highway 81 also have long travel times.

In coming up with their assessment, URS corporation relied primarily on two population and employment growth forecasts, one used by the Atlanta Regional Commission - which is partially funding the CTP - and one used by the BOC in writing Newton County's 2028 Comprehensive Plan. The county's population and employment figures are significantly higher than those of the ARC.

According to the comprehensive plan, the county is forecasted to have a population of 228,200 people and an employment base of 86,200 by 2028.

In 2005, there were just over 200,000 car trips in the county. Following the ARC's projection that number is expected to rise to more than 400,000 car trips in 2030. Following the county's population projection, car trips would rise to 800,000 by 2030.

The assessment also predicts significant increases in traffic and congestion on the western side of the county especially on roads going in the east-west direction, west of Ga. Highway 36.

Ga. Highway 36 and Ga. Highway 81 are anticipated as having the longest travel times in the future, more than 60 minutes, if the county's population model is followed. A major project to expand Salem Road from two to six lanes was factored into the assessment. While Salem Road's travel time is forecasted to grow in the future, the road-widening project is expected to keep travel time on the corridor to 30 minutes.

"You're seeing more problematic areas where you generally would think you would under either condition," said Jim Brown, senior transportation project manager for URS Corporation. "While it impacts in a somewhat tougher way, it's not like it's all of a sudden going into all new areas."

The assessment also found a lack of connectivity on Salem Road south of the Rockdale County line where cul-de-sac subdivision developments hinder roadway connectivity and drivers' ability to take alternative routes.

Truck freight traffic is expected to increase by 128 percent from 2005 to 2030, going from 7.6 million tons to 17.2 million tons. Most of the truck freight traffic is expected on Interstate-20 and its interchanges, U.S. Highway 278, Salem Road and Ga. Highway 138.

While the county's municipalities were found to have an adequate supply of sidewalks, the assessment found sidewalks sorely lacking in the rest of the county. Many schools located outside of municipalities were found lacking in sidewalks.

County Engineer Kevin Walter said the Newton County School System has not helped the sidewalk situation with its policy of busing all children to school. Walter said the state does not require school districts to bus students if they live less than a mile from their school.

After the presentation, several members of the audience asked about the potential of public transportation in the county.

"You cannot build your way out of traffic," said audience member George Stamps. "The problem can only be solved by public transportation."

Brown, told the audience public transportation does appear viable for the county. Brown said there was an opportunity for regional transit funding in bringing commuter rail to the county.

A large population older than 60 also bodes well for the potential of public transportation he said.

The next public meeting on the CTP is scheduled for May. The finalization of the CTP is expected this summer.