As the Cartersville-Bartow Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) continues work on its Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Bartow County Transportation Planner Tom Sills said two documents from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) are paramount.
One is a Level of Service (LOS) projection predicting traffic levels come 2050.
“They’re forecasting, based on all of the socioeconomic data, quite a bit of congestion on I-75,” Sills said at Wednesday afternoon’s MPO Policy Committee meeting. “Basically what you’re looking at is what’s called a LOS map … if it’s red- or orange-shade, you’ve got higher levels of congestion than might be desired.”
Other pockets on the map showing high levels of congestion included the stretch of U.S. 41 intersecting with Highway 140 and the stretch of U.S. 41 intersecting with Highway 20.
The other important document, he said, is a roughly $1.1 billion list of possible transportation infrastructure projects planned from 2020-2050.
“What happens next is, through a collaborative process, we take this list of projects that we’ve come up with and we throw it against the map and see which ones we think will have the most impact, and which ones we can afford in terms of the federal fund allocation,” Sills said. “The focus of the plan is to meet the Level of Service demands and also meet community needs. If you’ve got a lot of economic development opportunities and you want to take advantage of it, that’s something that’s certainly worthy of our consideration as a community to fund.”
Yet several members of the committee aired major concerns about the State’s methodology — particularly, when it comes to population estimates and federal funding allocations.
Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson, for example, said he considered a 2050 population projection that saw Bartow County at only 135,000 people to be a vast undercount.
“When I looked into the Office of Planning and Budget’s website after that meeting, they were modeling based on Census estimates through 2013,” he said. “Between 2010 and 2013, we went from 100,167 people to like 101,000 people … since then, we’ve gone to 106,000.”
But it was GDOT’s federal funding projections that really stirred debate. Those numbers show the County’s total federal funding allocation at $228.8 million from 2020-2050, with federal funding set aside for maintenance projects during that same timeframe at $87.9 million.
That, Sills said, represents a substantial drop in funding from the County’s last LRTP projections.
“The last draft, we had $400-and-something million projected over the 30-something year period, and now it’s dropped to $200-something million,” Olson said. “That didn’t seem like enough money at the time, and now it’s been cut in half even though GDOT’s been spending a boatload within the County.”
Simply put, Sills said he couldn’t explain why GDOT anticipates the federal funding stream decreasing so dramatically. Interstate improvement projects alone, he continued, would easily gobble up the entirety of the projected funding.
Along those same lines, Olson noted that a 2020-2024 federal funding “band” only included about $32 million.
“We’re down there asking GDOT to put in Old Alabama in three phases, totaling $75 million, just in the next few years,” he said. “The Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor, that’s an over $100 million project.”
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor also said the numbers appeared suspicious.
“Population costs you money, industry makes you money,” he said. “So the population centers are getting the money, and it seems like we’re doing really well contributing to the revenue and we’re getting cut.”
Sills noted that the draft projections do not include funding via the State’s HB 170 program — nor has GDOT given the local MPO any indication of how much future funding to anticipate from that particular stream.
“There’s supposed to be some give and take on some of this, so we do have the option to talk about needing to shift certain projects backward and forward,” Sills said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the next 60 days to take the project list that we have and to winnow that down so that we’re not showing spending any more federal dollars than we have coming to us, recognizing that right now, it looks like we’re spending as much locally on these projects as we’re getting out of federal aid.”
An MPO Technical Coordinating Committee work session on the matter is slated for Sept. 4, with a public information open house on the 2020-2050 transportation project list set from 4-7 p.m. at the Clarence Brown Conference Center on Aug. 20.
Sills wrapped up the meeting with a few updates on some ongoing road projects, including the first phase of Cass-White Road improvements.
“They’re about to finish putting the topping on the creek bridge, and then they will start after the first of the year on the railroad crossing bridge,” he said.
Meanwhile, a concept report for Cass-White Road Phase II has been drafted and approved by Bartow County.
“It’s in GDOT’s hands, awaiting their signature,” Sills said. “At that point in time, we’ll have firm cost estimates and an idea of what we’re going to do with that section between I-75 and Great Valley Parkway.”