Mass-transit was the keyword of the day at a recent progress meeting for the county's Comprehensive Transportation Plan.
Concerned citizens and county and city officials crowded into The Center for Community Preservation and Planning Thursday evening for a public information meeting on the CTP, which once completed will be a guide to the county, Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Transportation, in future transportation projects.
When the CTP was first undertaken nearly a year ago, gasoline was only $3 a gallon and public transportation for many in the county remained a desirable, though distant, possibility.
But now as gas in Covington approaches the once-unthinkable $4 mark (and shows all signs of continuing well past it), what was once a distant possibility now looms as an absolute necessity in the minds of many Newton County residents.
Though the CTP plan includes recommendations for a public transit program, road improvements received the bulk of the plan's attention.
The CTP includes recommendations for modifications to 17 previously identified road improvement projects and recommendations for seven newly identified road projects.
Public transportation recommendations include the implementation of an express bus service between Covington and Atlanta, the expansion of the existing GDOT Park and Ride lot on U.S. Highway 278 and participation in a federally-subsidized rural transit program.
URS Corporation, the company writing the CTP, also recommends the county conduct another separate study to focus exclusively on public transportation possibilities for the county.
Jim Brown, senior transportation project manager for URS, said commuter bus lines would be a good first step for Newton County before the county considers commuter rail.
Brown recommended the Board of Commissioners apply for available federal funding for a rural bus transit program.
A white paper on the program and how it could be implemented in the county was presented to the BOC nearly a year ago.
"We feel the first step is moving ahead with the commuter bus and getting that started," Brown said, a recommendation that was seconded by County Engineer Kevin Walter.
Kay Lee, who works for The Center on community initiatives, recommended audience members contact their local delegation to the state General Assembly and tell them of their interest in bringing mass transit to Newton County.
Lee said she spoke with Newton County's state senator, John Douglas, last year and was told he was not advocating for mass transit currently because he was not under the impression it was something the county residents wanted.
"The most a local community can do is voice their opinion," Lee said, adding "absolutely commuter rail is the answer to the future. No doubt about it."
Final recommendations of the CTP will be presented to the BOC for final approval later this month.
For more infomation about the Newton County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, call the Center for Community Planning and Preservation at (770) 788-0484.