Transportation plan gets approved

COVINGTON - County commissioners gave final approval to the Comprehensive Transportation Plan on Tuesday night.

In development for more than a year, the plan recommends nearly $880 million worth of projects to improve the county's transportation infrastructure between now and 2030.

Projects identified as critical would cost an estimated $116.7 million.

The five most-critical projects named were the widening of Brown Bridge Road, Crowell Road and the East Covington Bypass to four lanes; the widening of Salem Road to six lanes; and upgrading Industrial Boulevard to three lanes.

Also proposed was a new Interstate 20 interchange between Salem and Almon roads that would be known as the West Covington Bypass, at a cost of $58.7 million. The bypass would relieve congestion at the Salem and Almon interchanges.

Numerous other intersection and corridor upgrades and bridge replacements and rehabilitations are also recommended.

The plan also encourages implementation of a rural bus program, an express bus service to Atlanta, expansion of the existing park and ride lot for commuters and the addition of another lot.

County Engineer Kevin Walter said there is federal money available to study large-scale transit options. The county could be eligible to get $250,000 per year in federal money, he said. However, the qualification process could take up to six months and cost $50,000.

Chairman Aaron Varner told commissioners they were merely voting on the concept laid out in the plan and not approving specific projects.

Varner said he intends to hold a meeting after the November election with the current and incoming board members to discuss the most critical projects and potential funding options.

"We're going to be limited by dollars," he said, but noted the county does have some impact fee and SPLOST money that could be applied.

The Comprehensive Plan was partially funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission and has a three-fold purpose: To assess current and future mobility needs; to develop multimodal transportation recommendations and to move projects toward implementation.

The plan will give the county a better shot at obtaining state and federal grant money as well, Walter said.

In 2000, a portion of Newton County became part of the ARC, which provides funding for its communities to do long-range transportation planning and then includes those plans in its regional and statewide planning process, according to Kristen Wescott, a transportation planner with URS Corporation, the consultants hired by the county to create the plan.

Wescott said the county's population has grown by more than 30,000 since the last transportation plan, known as the Newton County Thoroughfares Plan, was conducted in 2000.

"We don't want this plan to sit on a shelf. We want to move these transportation projects toward implementation," she said.

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