Commissioners to focus on traffic congestion in new year

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

One of the top priorities for the new Henry County Board of Commissioners in 2017 is transportation and traffic congestion.

Regular readers to this publication are probably laughing at the absurd understatement in the previous sentence, because traffic has been arguably the biggest problem in the county for nearly two decades, and every election cycle during that time has made it a top talking point.

But the growing county’s needs in that regard continue, and as the newest completed transportation - the express toll lanes on I-75 - is unveiled, commissioners are looking at other sites that need to be addressed in the near future.

Dee Clemmons, who has been on the board now for two months representing District 2, said the express toll lanes were a top priority with officials at the Georgia Department of Transportation “because they benefit the entire state.” As for county projects, this is her assessment: “We are about 10 years behind.”

A couple of items on the drawing board are in Clemmons’ district and would impact both residential and commercial traffic in large ways. One of them is the effort to expand Jonesboro Road to four lanes from Henry Town Center west to the Clayton County line. Work on that project should start in 2019, Clemmons said, as it is out to bid right now and the design for it is being finalized.

Another project that would eventually tie into Jonesboro Road is the proposed western connector, which has been discussed for nearly a decade. Named for its planned location just west of I-75, it was mentioned recently in some social media posts related to the Jodeco South multi-use development that is getting back on track due to recent annexation moves by the city of Stockbridge.

The western connector as proposed would start at Hudson Bridge Road, next to McDonald’s and directly across from the main entrance to Walmart. It would go south and cross Jodeco Road between I-75 and Chambers Road, joining with what is now Mount Olive Road adjacent to Henry Town Center and ending at Jonesboro Road.

Clemmons said that project, expected to cost about $17 million, has not been a priority at the state level and is currently scheduled to get underway in 2021. Survey work has been completed along with some traffic and environmental studies.

The project could get moved up in state interest increases, and that could happen “if the county buys into it,” Clemmons pointed out.

“We’ve just had such a reputation of dysfunction from our board that people don’t want to work with us,” she said about past friction among commissioners. “I think this year there will be a whole different outlook.”

She also mentioned federal funding opportunities as a possible solution.

“As long as we can show some collective effort we will be fine,” she said.

Clemmons’ attitude was mirrored by incoming chair June Wood, who heard frequent comments about traffic and transportation while on the campaign trail.

“There are opportunities to definitely strengthen our relationship with the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as the Atlanta Regional Commission,” said Wood. “What we’ve got to do is get together and develop a strategy for what funding we should pursue.”

Noting the county-city transportation that was released in 2016, Wood said she is looking forward to working with county staff and assessing needs throughout the county to determine the best possible course of action.

“We’ve got to find those common goals to focus on together to be as successful as we can to address transportation and traffic issues,” she said. “There are a lot of ideas about moving forward, and the question is how we do it together so we see successes sooner rather than later.”