JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Johns Creek City Council voted July 22 to move forward with designs for Jones Bridge Road and provided additional funding for traffic studies of neighboring roads.
After weeks of contentious debate on Jones Bridge improvements last year that ended in a mayoral veto, the Public Works Department returned with a compromise: widen the pavement to support four lanes, but stripe for three lanes.
According to 2016 estimates, nearly 15,000 cars travel down Jones Bridge each day, putting it 18 percent over capacity.
When voters narrowly approved a transportation sales tax in 2016, widening Jones Bridge Road from Waters Road to State Bridge Road was prioritized as a Tier 1 project. In the run-up to the referendum, supporting documents specified Jones Bridge would be widened from two to four lanes.
Those supporting documents have put the City Council at odds, not just for Jones Bridge Road, but for other widening projects, such as Haynes Bridge Road and Medlock Bridge. The question that hangs over all projects funded by the transportation sales tax, is to what degree the council must conform to the specifics that were presented to the public before the referendum.
The city’s legal counsel has insisted that the council would be inviting a lawsuit if they built anything different than what was stated in the TSPLOST supporting documents. This advice was echoed by a courtesy review from the Georgia Attorney General Office in December.
The council voted to draw up plans for both a three-lane and four-lane widening Nov. 26. Bodker vetoed that decision Dec. 7 after the Attorney General review. Since then, the council had been in a stalemate over Jones Bridge Road. Now, a compromise that was briefly discussed last year has passed.
The initial $150,000 the council authorized will go to a traffic study of Jones Bridge, engineering designs and gathering public input. The traffic study would help determine a trigger point for widening the road to four lanes.
Additionally, the council directed from the general fund $10,000 to a tragic study of the intersection of Jones Bridge and Old Alabama and $30,000 for a study of Barnwell Road, which Jones Bridge turns into south of Old Alabama.
“At this point, we’re implementing projects in silos because these traffic counts and traffic studies don’t exist,” Councilwoman Stephanie Endres said. “We can kick this can down the road, but at some point, we need to recognize what the effect is going to be and be proactive in our planning.”
Councilman John Bradberry voted against the plans, saying they were based on a false premise: that the council did not have the authority to deviate from TSPLOST plans. Endres and Councilman Chris Coughlin agreed to go forward with the study though noted they likely would not vote in favor of the widening itself.
“Say [a three-lane widening] is much cheaper, and it’s a better option than the five lanes, and the trigger points 21, 22, whatever, 200 years out of the way,” Coughlin said. “I fear that a future council will proceed with making it five lanes if we put that footprint down.”
In other business, the council approved an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance that limits the floor area used to sell or advertise e-cigarettes, vapes or related products to 25 percent, essentially banning future vape shops.
Existing vape stores would not be affected by the law so long as they maintain their business license.
The proposed ordinance is part of a trend of local governments cracking down on e-cigarettes, purportedly in response to increased vaping among teenagers. Alpharetta, Milton and Fulton and Forsyth Counties have all considered or adopted similar legislation.
While studies show that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional tobacco products, they often contain nicotine, which has been proven highly addictive. The earlier someone uses nicotine products, the more difficult it is to quit later, and the substance can have lasting damaging effects on still developing adolescent brains, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“This is a major problem in our city,” Bodker said. “I’ve been talking with principals not just at the high school level but at the middle school level … It will not by itself solve the problem, but I believe it to be a step in the right direction.”
Council members Chris Coughlin and Stephanie Endres voted against the measure, arguing the restrictions would likely be ineffective at stopping teens from getting their hands on vaping products, could increase use of more dangerous traditional tobacco products and were punitive to certain businesses.