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Mass transit top concern

COVINGTON - Finding public transit sources was a hot topic at a meeting held Tuesday night on the county's Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

"There was a good deal of interest in public transit and mass transit of different types. A lot of people expressed interest to have some way to get to Atlanta without driving," County Engineer Kevin Walter said.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority operates a bus service out of the Church in the Now parking lot in Conyers, but does not come into Newton County, Walter said.

There were also questions about establishing a rail service into Atlanta.

Walter said rail service could not be established with new lines, but existing lines of the CSX railway could potentially be used for that purpose.

Some in attendance wanted MARTA extended into Newton County, but, because other counties refused to participate when the service was chartered, it only runs through Fulton and DeKalb counties, Walter said.

The Georgia legislature would have to amend MARTA's charter to change its service area, he said.

A advocacy group for the blind also expressed interest in having a local mini-bus service for those without their own transportation.

"I think that would be something that would be very beneficial to disabled people, people with no cars and elderly people, as well," Walter said.

Residents' desire for public transportation will be taken into account by consultants with URS Corp., who are currently preparing the comprehensive plan.

The plan will make recommendations for safety, congestion mitigation, traffic flow and improved land use over the next 20 years.

Walter said the study is necessary if the county is to be competitive in its efforts to attain federal and state funding.

So far, URS has completed an assessment of existing conditions on roadways and has conducted interviews with key local officials.

URS also recently completed a needs assessment report listing the worst roads in the county. Among them were Brown Bridge, Crowell and Salem roads; the Covington Bypass; U.S. Highway 278; and Ga. highways 36 and 81.

Consultants must now determine which roads have the most critical need for improvement.

The purpose of Tuesday's meeting was to get public input on the plan. Consultants will now compile a list of recommendations to county commissioners.

Another meeting will be held to present those recommendations to the public, Walter said.

The Atlanta Regional Commission will fund 80 percent of the $312,000 study, with Newton County funding 20 percent.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.