State projections see interstate volume increasing 35% over next three decades

GDOT presentation predicts 2050 Bartow traffic issues

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If the county’s roadways are a snarled mess in 2050, Habte Kassa can’t shoulder any of the blame. After all, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Office of Planning Technical Services and Air Quality Branch chief gave the local community a heads-up 31 years in advance at Wednesday morning’s Cartersville-Bartow Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting.

According to GDOT tabulations presented by Kassa, Bartow’s roads amassed slightly under 4.5 million daily vehicle miles of travel (VMTs) in 2015, with Interstate 75 traffic representing about 2.4 million of those VMTs. Meanwhile, principal arterial traffic (i.e., north/south 41 traffic and west/east 411 and 20 traffic) produced about 771,000 VMTs, as minor arterial traffic (think the northern and southernmost tips of 41 and the Highway 61/113 corridor) added another 793,000 VMTs to the county’s daily road count.

All things considered, Kassa said those figures aren’t too bad. More than half of the county’s roads posted Level of Service (LOS) ratings — basically, the modeled daily traffic number divided by daily capacity — of C or higher, while just 0.5% of the local roads posted an LOS rating of F.

However, if local officials do nothing to address an uptick in population and infrastructure capacity demands, Kassa said those numbers could look much different in a mere three decades.

By 2050, GDOT estimates show Bartow’s interstate VMT count increasing 35% to more than 3.2 million per day. Meanwhile, principal and minor arterial VMTs are projected to eclipse more than 1 million, while collector VMTs are predicted to increase 66% to about 530,000 daily.

Under that scenario, Kassa said the number of Bartow roads with LOS scores of F would increase a staggering 70 fold, increasing from the 2015 base rate of 0.5% to 35%, while the number of county roads scoring a C or better would decrease to just 27%.

Other GDOT models presented by Kassa show the number of daily vehicle hours of travel (VHTs) on Bartow’s expressway growing from 66,927 in 2015 to 179,824 in 2050 — a 169% increase. Over that same timeframe, Bartow’s principal and minor arterial VHTs are predicted to increase by 82% and 87%, respectively, while the county’s collector VHTs are projected to increase by 99%.

But as Kassa reiterated several times in his presentation, those projections are based on a model in which the local government does absolutely nothing to preemptively mitigate the future traffic increases — something Bartow County Transportation Planner Tom Sills said most certainly will not be the case.

Indeed, that’s the basis of the MPO’s 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which seeks to update data, maps and travel demand models in order to help officials draw up strategies to address current — and future — transportation needs.

In April, Tim Preece of the civil engineering firm VHB said a “fiscally constrained network” plan was slated for completion by the end of July. He said the LRTP itself will be developed throughout August and September, with the MPO’s Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC) scheduled to evaluate the plan in January. 

Pending no major snags along the way, the 2050 LRTP is anticipated to be adopted in February.

Generating almost as much discussion at Wednesday’s TCC meeting, however, were socioeconomic projections provided by the MPO itself. According to the MPO’s projections, Bartow’s population is set to increase from about 100,000 to 130,000 over the next 31 years, with the total number of households within the county increasing by 26%.

Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson was curious as to why the 2050 population projections were considerably lower than those from an earlier analysis, which projected the county’s future populace to be closer to 170,000 by 2040. 

“I suspect they are looking at resources that are out there, water being one of them,” Sills said. “I don’t know if the growth we saw in the ’80s and ‘90s is necessarily going to dictate what we see in the 2020s and 2030s.” 

However, even with total employment predicted to increase 63% under the model, the MPO projections anticipate the total number of K-12 and college students in Bartow to increase just 4% by the time 2050 rolls around.

“Looking at the trends in school enrollment between 2010 and 2015, that’s what we’re seeing,” Sills said. 

Count Olson among those perplexed by that seeming statistical contradiction.

“That’s a puzzle,” he said. “I don’t know where those kids are going — maybe the growth of homeschooling, or whatever. Certainly our two public school systems haven’t shown growth, but we’ve grown from 100,000 to 106,000 from 2010.”

Kassa had his own take on why he believes the 2050 student projection numbers are so low.

“A lot of baby boomers are moving to Bartow County,” he said, “without school-age children.”