The third and final public hearing on Hall County’s proposed long-range transportation plan Tuesday night turned into a lively discussion over projections concerning population and amount of traffic.
The 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan estimates that Hall County could have 561,000 people by 2040 and that, if little or no improvements are made between now and then, vehicles will be throttling nearly all of Hall’s major roadways.
“Is it really possible that this area here could see a tripling of the number of housing units in 30 years?” asked one area resident, Mike Forster.
“The numbers that you’re seeing — that’s what all the jurisdictions and municipalities within Hall County are projecting,” said Srikanth Yamala, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s transportation planning manager.
“But is it realistic is my question,” said Forster’s wife, Annette. “Is the methodology they use realistic?”
Yamala said the predictions consider several factors, including the economic downturn.
“This (plan) gets updated every couple of years, so if we miss the mark, we’re going to update it,” said Jeff Carroll, the MPO’s South Carolina-based consultant. “Are (the numbers) right? Do you think Gwinnett County thought 30 years ago they’d be where they are today? Probably not.
“We feel like these are reasonable assumptions,” Carroll added. “We’ve worked with the planning directors and they’ve approved them, but the most important thing is we can update them.”
Carroll said the “commute time” for Hall residents is going to increase because of the population growth.
“And our mobility options are very limited,” he said. “While Hall Area Transit has increased over the last few years in its ridership and routes, it’s still fairly limited in where it goes and the people it can serve.
“Roadway congestion is going to worsen, so we really need to look at expanding transit, express bus (service to Atlanta) and other types of options,” such as carpooling and working from home, Carroll said.
The transportation plan must be completed every four years to comply with a federal requirement concerning air quality standards.
It features $2.1 billion in transportation projects through 2040 with funding coming from federal, state and local sources.
The primary local source is the county’s special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, which has to be approved by voters.
Carroll has said that planners are allowed to consider SPLOST as a revenue source because it has had past success.
The road projects in the plan are divided into three time periods, or tiers — 2012-17, 2018-30 and 2031-40.
The 2012-17 tier features $276 million in projects that have been deemed the closest to getting off the ground than any others in the county.
It includes the widening of Ga. 347/Friendship Road from Interstate 985 to Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway and the widening of Ga. 347/Lanier Islands Parkway from I-985 to McEver Road.
That tier also includes the construction of U.S. 129/Athens Highway from Ga. 323/Gillsville Highway to the Pendergrass Bypass in Jackson County.
Projects that have stirred public interest, such as the long-awaited Sardis Connector in northwest Hall and the widening of Spout Springs Road in South Hall, are in the plan, which features some $1.8 billion in new roads.
The plan also includes funding for maintenance and public transit.
The door hasn’t closed totally on public comments on the plan.
Residents can submit comments through July 13 to the MPO, which is shepherding the plan to its scheduled approval by that group’s policy committee on Aug. 9. That meeting is set to start at 10 a.m. in the Georgia Mountains Center.