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Chief planner urges cities to consider top road needs

POSTED: April 17, 2014 12:12 a.m.

The head of Hall County’s main transportation planning group told area government leaders Wednesday they should consider “critical needs” in terms of projects as the county moves forward on updating its long-range transportation plan.

“Definitely, we have a lot more needs, project-wise,” said Srikanth Yamala, director of the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

In past long-term plan updates, “we were fortunate not to have to go through a massive cutting exercise, but this time around, I’m afraid we will be there,” he added.

Uncertain federal transportation dollars, which make up the bulk of funding for road projects, is a particular concern.

Current federal law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, expires Oct. 1, but officials have said funding could go dry up much sooner, possibly this summer. Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden has said that, starting in July, Georgia “will not be authorizing any federal aid projects — or very few, if any at all.”

Congress, meanwhile, is debating reauthorizing the federal transportation spending law.

“We’ve got to do more with less and maybe change our mindset of how we make those investments,” said Brian Bolick, vice president of Pond & Co., a Norcross firm that’s been hired by Hall to produce the long-term plan.

“We’ve got the challenge of trying to read the tea leaves. We’re developing a plan that needs to be able to satisfy funding that no one knows what the criteria (are) going to be.”

Bolick was speaking to the MPO’s technical coordinating committee, a group of area engineers, planners and public works officials that meets regularly to review transportation issues and provide project updates.

Because Hall County is part of an air quality nonattainment area, it must update its long-term plan every four years. The current document, the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, was released in August 2011. The update must be completed by August 2015.

In addition to revenue concerns, officials also have more territory to cover in the plan update. As a result of 2010 census numbers, the MPO’s boundaries have grown to include a part of west Jackson County, particularly the Braselton area, which includes a stretch of Interstate 85.

Also, the MPO will need to consider an updated bicycle and pedestrian plan and a long-term Gainesville transportation plan, with both efforts — also guided by Pond — completed over the past year.

“Obviously, we can have a wish list, wanting to widen every single road, but that’s not reality,” Yamala told the committee.

He said Hall’s transportation plans basically have been “retrofitting” to growth that’s taken place.

“That’s one of the reasons our previous plans are heavily (laden) with roadway widenings,” Yamala said. “We will let the public involvement process determine what kind of (transportation) modes they would like to see.”

A schedule showing the long-term plan’s development includes several public meetings through January, including one possibly in May.


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