Transportation projects mapped out

 With projected population and employment growth on the horizon, Cherokee County is taking proactive steps to revise its 25-year transportation plan, which includes hundreds of projects that add up to a billion dollar price tag.

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners is expected to consider adopting an updated Comprehensive Transportation Plan at its Feb. 2 meeting, after which programming and the execution of projects will begin.

The county revises its transportation plan every five years with assistance from the Atlanta Regional Commission. The last plan was updated in 2008 and updates to the current plan on the table began 18 months ago with an analysis into the county’s population, employment, and land use and development changes, said Public Works Director Geoff Morton.

“The purpose of the CTP update was to really reevaluate the 2008 plan. We didn’t need to start from scratch because the county had a solid plan with a vision, goals and investment strategies. We just want to make sure that, based on current needs and trends, those were the same goals and objectives,” said Claudia Bilotto, a consultant with Parsons-Brinkerhoff.

Based on the current trends, consultants focused on identifying solutions with less costly options.

The project list consists of 275 projects that include road widenings, intersection improvements, bridge replacements, sidewalks, bike lanes and trails projects. Morton said the projects are broken down into various funding categories, with $322 million in federal dollars, $296 million in state funding and $516 million in SPLOST dollars for a total of $1.15 billion.

“Funding has continued to be a struggle in all facets of government, and transportation, of course, is one of those areas,” Bilotto said. “We have had some new development, but I wanted to look for low-lying fruit and things that we could do to solve problems in a shorter amount of time with less money.”

Many of the projects identified in the updated CTP can be funded through Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax.

“SPLOST is key to the transportation success of the county. This document will leave you with future SPLOST projects,” Bilotto said.

The county’s population and anticipated employment growth over the next 20 years were major driving factors in updating the transportation plan. Between 1980 and 2010, the county grew by 315 percent, and during the next 20 years, the population is expected to spike by another 94 percent. Employment growth is also projected to increase by 166 percent through 2040.

Consultants also looked at commuting patterns, and according to the findings, 23,000 people live outside the county but commute in for work, 18,000 live and work in the county and 69,000 live in the county but commute outside for work.

“Commuting patterns also tell an important part of the story when it comes to transportation,” Bilotto said. “I don’t think the story is a surprise to anyone because Cherokee has always historically been a bedroom community, but you do see more employment growth, and therefore, the number of people living outside of the county but commuting in continues to grow, as well.”

Based on the goals outlined in the 2008 CTP and feedback from residents during two public outreach meetings, key factors in project prioritization include congestion relief, safety resolution, cost-benefit ratio, economic development potential, compatibility with adjacent areas and deliverability.

Because the CTP is a 25-year plan, the project list is divided into four tiers, with the current tier ending in 2018 and including projects already underway.

“Since this is a living document, projects can also be moved from upper tiers to lower tiers depending on need and priority,” Morton said.

Projects identified in the next tier (2019-2024) include the widening of Highway 20 from Highway 369 to Highway 371; widening Marietta Highway from Ridge Pine Drive to Pine Creek Drive to Ridge Road; and widening Trickum Road, from Barnes Road to Highway 92.

Safety improvements are also planned for Highway 92 and Highway 20, as well as turn lanes and signal modifications at various intersections of Highway 140. Improvements are also planned for bridges over Little River on Bells Ferry Road and Highway 369.

Also included are various bike, pedestrian and trails projects as well as a CATS/Transit Sustainability Study. Consultants are recommending that the county increase its demand response fleet by three, add three new bus shelters and participate in the OneBusAway smartphone app.

Click here to view the original article from the Cherokee Tribune.