FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — State and local officials gathered at Lanier Technical College Sept. 30 for the county’s seventh annual transportation summit.
The summits are held to discuss how to keep Forsyth County on the move and what the future of traffic and mobility will look like.
The panel’s local representatives included District 4 County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, County Transportation Department Director Roy Ricker, County Director of Engineering John Cunard and Assistant County Manager Garrin Coleman. Regional transportation projects were also highlighted by GDOT Commissioner Russel McMurry, Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL) and GDOT District 1 Engineer Kelvin Mullins.
While all speakers were in person for the forum, it was broadcast online, with residents tuning in from outside the college. That was one reason to prompt GDOT Commissioner McMurry to outline how traffic has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
McMurry said traffic during the initial stages of the pandemic cut road volume around the state by as much as 60 percent. However, more Georgians are now hitting the road, and he said traffic is around 85 to 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. More large trucks are also on the road than before, signaling the “supply chain is reorienting itself” with higher online ordering of products, he said.
Keeping up with growth
Farther down the road, the biggest transportation challenge Forsyth County faces, McMurry said, is “keeping up.”
“We know that Atlanta metropolitan region’s population, including Forsyth County, is expected to grow by 2.9 million [by 2050],” he said, equating the growth to importing the Denver metropolitan area into Metro Atlanta. “Forsyth County’s share of that is about a quarter of a million people.”
In order to “keep up,” the county will need to focus on keeping its current roads in a state of good repair, expand heavily trafficked thoroughfares and ensure that there are enough funds in Forsyth’s transportation coffers to meet demand.
From a regional perspective, GDOT will “continue to build on the success” of the express toll lanes in Cherokee and Cobb counties with the Ga. 400 Expressway project, McMurry said. GDOT figures show the lanes have cut the morning and afternoon rush hour by one hour each, and general-purpose lanes are moving around 20 mph faster than before the toll lanes opened.
Though the Ga. 400 project has a limited scope in Forsyth, running from the border with Fulton County to just north of McFarland Parkway, it could be a boon for some of the 80,000 residents who travel out of the county for work each day. The major project includes express lanes from the North Springs MARTA station north into Forsyth with four interchanges, including at Union Hill Road, and bus rapid transit enhancements.
The project is expected to be completed in 2026.
Local master plan
For travel within the county, Forsyth is crafting its first public transportation master plan. Eric Bosman with consultants Kimley-Horn outlined the goals of the blueprint and the current state of public transportation. Bosman said around 16 percent of residents are 65 years or older, do not have a vehicle or have disabilities that necessitate public transportation.
The greatest need for public transport centers around Cumming and along Forsyth’s border with Fulton County, he said.
Forsyth is already behind in offering residents public mobility. Dial-a-Ride, a ride-share program that provides transportation within the county for around $2 per trip, supplied around 23,000 trips last year, but Bosman said the demand required the county partner with Uber and Lyft to meet all requests. Senior Services transportation is also available for residents and will be consolidated with Dial-a-Ride in the master plan.
Long-term relief could include high-capacity transit, like fixed route buses, that would coincide with Ga. 400 improvements, Bosman said. However, the county is currently focusing on providing more “micro-transit” and ride request services to address the gap in coverage.
Additional public input meetings will take place next spring for the transportation master plan.
ATL Executive Director Chris Tomlinson said to improve the state of movement in the county and surrounding region, a focus must be placed on providing several modes of transportation.
“It is going to take every mode of transportation to address the needs of Forsyth County,” he said.
County Engineer John Cunard underscored many of Forsyth’s recently completed road and sidewalk projects while previewing those slated for the near future.
The Pilgrim Mill Road expansion, which Cunard called a “tremendous project for the area,” is set for completion before the end of the year.
Clearing for the Ronald Reagan Boulevard extension recently began. The 3.6-mile, $60 million project will provide a parallel alternative to Ga. 400 and connect McFarland Parkway to Majors Road.
The county is currently acquiring right of way to expand Old Atlanta Road to four lanes with a raised median, curb and gutter, sidewalks and turn lanes.
The Coal Mountain Connector, a new, 1-mile road from Ga. 9 to Ga. 369, is also in the works, Cunard said.