Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Time To End The Mileage Cap: The Proportional Cap Solution

Georgia has a fixed mileage cap on its state highway system, and that is not a good thing.  For those that do not understand what that is, it means that the state imposes a specific number of miles that the state highway system cannot exceed no matter how many new roads are added to the state's public road system.  It is used as a means to gradually scale back state control slowly to avoid stirring public outrage.  Instead of adding new highways to the state system gradually as the need arises, GDOT forces local agencies to take back state highway mileage whether they want it or not.  This post explains why this is wrong, and what should be done to fix it.


Ever since the mileage cap was introduced, at least 1,000-2,000 miles of state highways were unloaded onto local governments that lacked adequate resources to properly maintain them.  These weren't just dead-end old alignments.  They included whole highways and cities that were bypassed.  Guide and route signage in particular was poorly maintained and often disappeared from these former highways after a number of years.   While the state has been providing more federal aid to upgrade these roads after many years of neglect, it does not change the reality that these roads should not have reverted to local responsibility in the first place.  These are mostly federal-aid eligible farm-to-market highways such as Old GA 164 shown here in Franklin County.

What is not clear is what the origin to that mileage cap is.  When did it occur, what was the reason for the number selected, and who was responsible?  Unfortunately, a number of states have this cap and the results are the same: the state DOT is gradually getting out of the road maintenance business leaving an increasing number of roads under-maintained and fewer highway options for travelers.  In Georgia, it does not appear to be written into state law yet it is treated as holier than the Constitution.  Its 18,000 mile number is arbitrary, and it is has functioned for 40+ years as an unfunded mandate on every county and city in the state by denying them any tool to bring roads they cannot afford to adequately maintain into the state highway system.

Even if nothing else about Georgia's highway system ever changes, the elimination of this mileage cap is a very necessary step to properly balance state and local responsibility.  Since the 2016 gas tax increase, GDOT now has the funding to add at least a few more highways to the state highway system, and they no longer have an excuse as to why they are not.  The need to add more state highways is due to the following:

  • To create a fairer balance of state control ratios from county to county
  • To preserve the remaining farm-to-market system that still exists
  • To restore state highways that never should have been decommissioned in the first place
  • To add new arterial routes that should not be local responsibility
  • To bring into the state system roadways constructed as farm-to-market roads that were not previously brought into the state highway system
  • To bring into the state system certain urban arterials that carry high volumes of through traffic

While there are more effective, equitable and comprehensive solutions that can improve Georgia's roads than expanding the state highway system, this is by far the simplest to implement.  It should have the dual goal of relieving both urban and rural counties of thousands of miles of roads.  In urban areas, it provides at least some relief for the maintenance responsibility of arterial roads they often spent millions to construct.  In rural areas, it will not only improve state highway access to remote areas, but also reduce the costly maintenance burden that most rural counties and cities cannot afford.

Many of these new routes do not even have to be signed in the field.  It is not unheard of in many states to have state routes that are unnumbered or at least the numbers not made public knowledge.  This is already the case with the county roads that have internal numbers that are often not revealed on signage.  Local agencies need a voice on what roads they feel they are not well suited to maintain, and the state needs more and better routes.  The changes discussed in this post explain how to accomplish this.

WHY MORE STATE HIGHWAYS ARE NEEDED IN GEORGIA

Reason says that the state's responsibility should only be for arterial routes: the most major highways in a state.  This modern view believes that local agencies should otherwise be left to handle roadways that carry more local traffic, including farm-to-market/collector roads.  If local governments have proper resources, that might be possible.  However, the only ways that most local governments have these resources are the following means:

  • The county is able to afford a county DOT operated by traffic engineers including a traffic operations unit, construction division, and full resources to operate on levels comparable or better than the state.
    • This is only truly possible in wealthier counties and cities with a large enough population base
    • This is only the case in a handful of counties: no more than about 5-15 counties have something like this, and this is not true in all populous counties
    • Only approximately five counties actually have a PTOE on staff to supervise traffic operations
  • The counties and cities that are not able to afford this or do not wish to maintain their own roads are permitted to hire the state DOT to take over road maintenance operations in their respective jurisdiction
    • Not offered in Georgia since 1985
    • GDOT unwilling to discuss or revisit the issue
  • Counties and cities form multi-jurisdictional cooperatives in order to afford an operation similar to a state DOT or large urban county DOT
    • Never done before for roads except as a partnership between cities within a single county
    • No framework is currently in place on a state level to assist counties and cities in developing these cooperatives beyond a single county border
    • Current state law requiring at least three municipal services provided by a city discourages cities from contracting road maintenance to the county or to a regional cooperative
    • Shared services among counties is typically only done under duress (very low population, poor tax base)
  • Counties and cities swap services with the state so that low-tech operations on state highways are handled by counties in turn for the state performing high-tech operations (traffic control, signals, pavement markings) on local roads
    • Not offered in Georgia, and GDOT would likely refuse to take on the liability
    • Used frequently in Pennsylvania, but not really used elsewhere
  • Urban counties receive per-mile payments from the state for local maintenance of state routes
    • Only offered on a more limited basis for cities
    • Not offered on a county level, but should only be considered for the state's four highest population counties (populations over 500,000)
    • Some states offer this program to all counties (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida)
    • Also used in Tennessee, primarily in cities

Nothing on the list above is offered or in place for local governments.  Since that is true, this is why local agencies at present are not structurally prepared to take on any more responsibility than they already have, and what they have is already too much.  Even though Cobb and Gwinnett are financially able to handle more roads, neither have a numbered county highway system nor do they provide maintenance for any cities within the counties.  Cobb has not installed any guide signage along major route corridors, and Gwinnett is not following MUTCD standards in regards to large guide signs on the freeways they control.  Such a large metro area has the resources to do so much more, but that is not possible since the responsibility is drilled down to so many different jurisdictions.  Because of this, connectivity is especially poor in both counties with what few state highways exist not always lining up with prevailing traffic patterns.  DeKalb and Fulton both have lost control of much of their county roads without any overlaying county routes, so this issue is further exacerbated in both counties.


Gwinnett County built two freeways, Sugarloaf Parkway and Ronald Reagan Parkway, both of which should have immediately transferred to the state highway system, but did not due to the mileage cap.  Arterial roads and freeways like this should not require horsetrading with a dwindling number of roads to choose from just to be placed with the most appropriate agency.

With too many counties and cities, no amount of effort will make much difference when so much duplication of services exists while accountability is so poor.   Most of the 159 counties will never be structurally prepared, most of the 550 cities will certainly never be structurally prepared, and the resources available will never be enough for these local agencies to each to both construct and maintain their very own highway systems.  The amount of errors and omissions cannot be overlooked, and this is what happens when road maintenance is not supervised under the direction of engineers and trained inspectors.  Each slice of pie is too small.


If there was any inspection process or engineering oversight on local roads in Georgia, it might make more sense to transfer more roads to the local government but the cost to do it in so many counties is prohibitive with no other options available.  As a result, the counties not only do not have adequate economies of scale to do a good job, but they are figuratively (and sometimes literally) getting away with murder such as this atrocious sign in Walker County.  Walker County is a good candidate for turning back quite a number of routes, but this is what you would get as a result.  Since that is the case, would it not make sense to make the ownership structure proportionally static and the state system somewhat bigger so that fewer roads are maintained in this fashion?

Furthermore, county maintenance does not overlay into cities regardless of roadway function.  Major county roads transition to city maintenance upon entering city limits: a very bad idea in that it weakens the counties and makes it impossible to create functional routes along lengthy local routes when so many jurisdictions divide up responsibility of the same road.  Without extensive systemic reforms that require some shared responsibility and place supervision of thousands of miles of local roads under traffic engineers with fewer jurisdictions involved, the mileage cap is nothing but a road dump.  What good is a highway if it is not even recognized as such?


County roads cannot even be treated as highways in Georgia because they are only permitted in unincorporated areas.  This has resulted in lowered standards and maintenance levels, because functional classification does not determine jurisdiction.  In some states, county roads serve as a farm-to-market network meaning that they enter municipalities and overlay the city/town streets.  In Georgia, all city streets are owned/maintained by the city unless the county has contracted to maintain all their streets.  This especially became a problem when Fulton and DeKalb were carved into municipalities decimating the county DOT's (who were more suited to that responsibility) and placing all roads large and small in what had been one jurisdiction into many.  This is the problem of transferring a state highway to local authorities is that what was once a complete highway maintained by one jurisdiction can turn into two or more entities on the same road...in some cases for only a very short distance.

Because of this, an increase of 150-250 miles of roadway per year with the state accepting none of those (and adding more to the local burden with new highways) is not helping anybody but themselves.  Highway system connectivity is worse than it has ever been, and much of that is because the counties and cities are afraid to make any moves knowing that the state will take far more than they will give if the local governments ever ask for a route designation to be changed.  They can also forget asking the state to ever take over any road no matter what the reason.  Traffic congestion is worsened because of a lack of options.  Most travelers will typically avoid an unnumbered county road even if it is the shortest and best route.  Why?  Because travelers cannot trust that signage, pavement markings, and pavement conditions are to standards acceptable for through traffic.  Inversely, trucks ARE traveling these inadequate local roads to which these local agencies lack the budget to make the frequent upgrades and repairs necessary for these roads.  Truck prohibitions are not a foolproof means of preventing this.

In addition, many counties in Georgia have an unfair advantage or disadvantage.  A few rural counties have as much as 27% of their highway system under state control (Franklin) while others have as little as 11% (Fannin).  Urban counties in the Atlanta area have so few roads under state control that it has made system connectivity extremely poor off of the interstates.  Cobb County in particular now has less than 7% of their roads under state control.  Both Gwinnett and Chatham Counties are stuck maintaining urban freeways that they are not structurally suited to maintain because GDOT will not take them over.  GDOT has reduced what should be a partnership with the counties into horsetrading where no local agency ever gets a good deal.  When the road system ratio is declining 1.2% per decade, ultimately the counties and cities will be stuck with nearly 90% of the road responsibility by 2050.  If this rate continues along with overall system growth, the state DOT will have virtually no road responsibility (2.3%) 100 years from now.  This is why fixed mileage caps are a bad deal.  If the state wants to limit the mileage coming in, it should be based on a quota not a fixed number.

WHAT SHOULD REPLACE THE MILEAGE CAP AND HOW IT SHOULD BE ACCOMPLISHED

GDOT or the legislature needs to take three steps to fix this problem:

  1. Correct the 40+ year mistake of placing an arbitrary mileage cap on the state highway system by removing the 18,000 mile mileage cap as policy and banning the practice of using a fixed mileage cap as a means of preventing runaway highway system growth.
  2. Proportionally correct state highway mileage to restore the ratio of the state highway system in proportion to the local system to what it was around 1970 (20%)
    • This will result in an additional approximately 7,100 miles of state routes to be divided evenly among each GDOT district
    • First priority will be given to arterial roads under local control, limited access roads, and former state routes decommissioned after 1975 eligible for federal aid
    • Local agencies may be required to match funding to make necessary upgrades in order to place roads on the state highway system
  3. Set a new proportional mileage cap of exactly 20% of the TOTAL public highway system
    • State highway mileage may not exceed 20% of the total public road system mileage in a given year, but should not be less than 0.025% of that ratio (~300 miles in 2012)
    • Any additions made after the 7,100 mile correction will be only permitted in proportion to total mileage constructed that year meaning that if 1,000 miles of new public road miles were added in a given year, no more than 200 miles would be available statewide.
    • Remember that it is a cap meaning that roads are not taken over at once: they can be phased in over a period of years as funding allows with tons of roads in need of upgrade assigned as projected mileage

In addition, two additional steps are needed to further improve the functionality of the state highway system:
  1. Consider raising the cap once to 25% after a five year span to allow remaining roadways of functional importance to transfer to the state highway system
    • The 25% cap means that state responsibility is high enough that remaining local roads are both local in maintenance and function
    • Other roads that are functionally local or low volume and do not need higher maintenance levels
    • Less of a need exists for programs to supervise routine maintenance operations in 159 counties if the state responsibility is large enough to cover nearly all significant connecting roads
    • The additional 5% increase should be applied only in rural counties where the need of more centralized road supervision is greater
  2. Split the state highway system into two systems: state highways and regional highways
    • State highways will retain the criteria of today of serving high volume roads connecting county seats and will consist of no more than 12.5% of the highway system as opposed to 18,000 miles meaning that around 2,500 miles will transfer from primary to regional
    • Regional highways will consist of remaining state routes up to the ratio cap meaning 7.5% of the road system at a 20% ratio and 12.5% at a 25% ratio
    • The distinction between state highways and regional highways is:
      • GDOT is only responsible for maintenance and minor resurfacing; construction remains local responsibility
      • If a regional highway system is developed based on the regional road system model (multi-county maintenance based on the 12 planning regions), maintenance responsibility can transfer from GDOT to the regional DOT in any of the 12 regions (will be explained later)
    • Regional highways have more flexible criteria than state highways in that they:
      • Must be designated rural major collector or arterial on at least 80% of regional highways
      • Will be selected by affected local agencies instead of GDOT once every five years
      • Will not be required to be continuous across jurisdictions although they must connect to another state or regional highway on at least one end
      • Must be paved with an asphalt or concrete base (no gravel, tar/gravel surface treatment except as a cape seal, or dirt surface)
      • May include maintenance gaps or function as a spur from another route as long as at least one end connects to another route (necessary for unpaved sections)
    • Regional highway route signs may be used, but not all routes should be signed nor indicated with route numbers on statewide maps if it is likely to cause confusion or produce sign clutter
      • Any maintenance gaps on a single route should be signed with trailblazers ("TO" route signs) and/or directional guide signs (D1-x, D1-xa) by the state on the otherwise locally-owned roadway
      • Maintenance gaps should be indicated as part of the route indicated with the letter "C" and may be signed in the field by counties with the standard M1-6 pentagon
      • A 24" x 24" special route sign will be used for signed routes while a smaller reference marker will be used for unsigned routes posted only at endpoints
    • Regional highways not constructed to acceptable highway standards may be added to the system, but they will only be signed with reference markers (no route signs)
    • State highway standards (road width, geometry, shoulders) should be waived on regional highways located in mountainous terrain or counties with very low population, but they should receive lower priority for system inclusion


This fictional map of Fannin County shows the extent that increasing state highway mileage can help counties, especially those that were shortchanged on state highway miles during systemwide growth in the 1950's and 1960's.  This shows an increase of around 78 miles...a possible amount that could be gained from a 7,000 mile increase in state routes and a definite amount that could be gained from a ratio of 25%.  The roads shown in black here are mostly major collector, built to near state standards, and are a costly burden on the county.  They are the textbook definition of "farm-to-market" roads...the type that GDOT is trying to weed out with the mileage cap.  Even GA 60, shown in blue, is a highway that is lower in priority.  It is also designated major collector like most of the roads in black.  Two of them shown here, Old Hwy 76 and Old Hwy 2, were dumped on the county in the 1980's and have never been maintained as well since then.  This map shows that not all of these roads have to be signed highways, but it opens up remote areas to state highway access such as the Aska Road corridor, it restores state highway mileage where it makes sense (it does in the cases of sections of Old SR 2, Old SR 5 near Blue Ridge (Scenic Drive), and most of Old US 76 (shown here as Regional Routes 902 and 2000).

CORRECTING STATE HIGHWAY MILEAGE

Today, the addition of many thousands of miles of county roads and city streets coupled with the paving of thousands of miles of previously dirt roads calls for an intervention.  When the mileage cap was set, over half of county roads were still unpaved and state responsibility covered far more paved roads than it does today with less strict criteria than the present system has for a state takeover of a local road.  The number of miles continues to grow for most local governments while the state highway system continues to serve these communities less and less often.  It becomes highly problematic when traffic volumes increase on a road without any effort to place the road on the state highway system and/or existing highways are not properly routed to better align with through traffic due to the highly political nature of a mileage cap.

Overall, most rural county roads eligible for federal-aid are very well-constructed.  They were built with federal and state-aid from the 1950's to the early 1980's to state highway standards of the time.  Upon completion, they were transferred to the counties and then told they were local responsibility whether or not the money was actually there to keep them up.  More often it was not considering that by the early 2000's, it was not uncommon to see 30-40 year old delaminated signs left over from those projects on roads with outdated guardrails and faded striping.  Compared to many states, the transition to a state route would not be complicated since the majority of improvements needed would be cosmetic such as minor resurfacing, new pavement markings, guardrail updates and new traffic signs.  With the Off-System Safety Improvement Program, many county roads in some DOT districts are now to levels that transition to a state maintained road would require nothing more than placing a state route sign on the road itself.  However, those conditions clearly are absolutely dependent on state-aid such as what the Off-System program offers.  As soon as that is cut away, the conditions present before will resurface.


This photo shows the pretty typical conditions found on rural county roads built as federal-aid projects that did not make the cut to enter the state highway system upon completion.  Conditions like this were nearly universal up until the late 2000's when the Off-System Safety program was introduced, but that program does not go far enough.  Improvements made today with the Off-System program are still not sufficient for these farm-to-market roads due to the lack of coordination and lack of oversight needed to make sure that signage, guardrails, and pavement markings are properly engineered, effective, adequate and routinely inspected.  Had these roads entered the state highway system under a proportional mileage cap set in the 1970's, this would generally not be an issue.

THE ADVANTAGE OF THE PROPORTIONAL (SLIDING) MILEAGE CAP VS. THE FIXED MILEAGE CAP

  • In 2013, the state's total public road mileage was 125,523.  This means that at the 20% ratio, 25,104 roads would be the maximum amount allowed on the state highway system
  • In 2026, we may assume that the state's total public highway mileage climbs to 128,000 adding 2,477 miles of roads to the overall public road system.
  • Using the 20% ratio, this means that the state would be permitted to add an additional 495 miles over the 2013 total or around 71 miles per GDOT district
  • Under the present 18,000 mile limit, the state control ratio would drop to 14.1% meaning that local agencies would be burdened with another 0.2% (251 miles) of the public road system and required to accept all 2,477 new miles constructed, including state highways transferred to the counties as part of mileage swaps and relocations of existing highways
  • In contrast, under the sliding cap the local governments would likely be able to retain portions of older highway alignments of adequate length and function as state highways while being able to add road mileage from time-to-time per the available quota
  • New arterial roadways would almost always become part of the state highway system
  • This also means that deals can be made and/or waiting lists made available to add certain roads to the state highway system when mileage comes available when presently no mileage is ever available
  • Despite an increase in mileage, the state's overall burden is fairly distributed and never increases beyond a fair proportion

LAYOUT OF THE EXPANDED SYSTEM: CRITERIA FOR REGIONAL HIGHWAYS

An expansion of the state highway system does not necessarily mean that these new routes will be exactly the same as the current layout of the state highway system.  In fact, a redefining of responsibilities would be a useful approach.  The major thing to change is to limit state involvement in construction activities on thousands of miles of roads with functional classification used as a principal criteria.  By dividing the system into state highways and regional highways, the regional highways should be restricted to the following criteria:

  • Principal Arterial
    • These will generally be classified as state (primary) highways, but a few of these may be regional highways
  • Paved Rural Minor Arterial
    • These will generally be classified as state (primary) highways, but a few of these may be regional highways
  • Urban Minor Arterial
    • Many of these may remain local, especially if they are very short or are are located within urbanized areas or cities
    • The majority of these are not presently on the state highway system
  • Paved Rural Major Collector
    • Unpaved segments will be treated as gaps in the route with temporary alternate routes established (if available) 
    • until if or when roadway is completed as a paved road to acceptable highway standards
    • Paved rural major collector roads receive highest priority in route selection with no less than 80% of mileage selected in each county designated major collector
    • Substandard or very low volume major collector roads may be exchanged for other better-constructed roads not eligible for federal-aid based on very strict criteria
  • Paved Rural Minor Collector 
    • Road must be constructed to near state standards along its entire length
    • May be assigned as substitution for major collector if major collector is not built to acceptable standards to serve as a highway
  • Functionally Local
    • Prior history as a state route such as an old alignment or decommissioned highway
    • Connects to other roads on both ends (cannot be a dead-end road)
    • Serves as a correction to a functional classification error
    • Is a short connector between two roadways functionally classified as collector or arterial
    • Functions as an alternate route for a roadway of higher functional classification if the alternate route is constructed to better standards or provides better connectivity than the higher functional classification road
    • Is necessary for route continuity where a route connection does not exist between a collector/arterial and a nearby highway
    • Limited to old alignments through towns or established unincorporated communities in rural areas
    • Also may be used for temporary alignments for missing links or unpaved sections of arterial or major collector roadways
    • Not permitted in urban counties

Additionally, the assigned responsibility and funding for each roadway classification on regional highways could be as follows in order to maintain primary local responsibility for construction costs:

  • All principal arterials and rural minor arterial roads would be fully financed by GDOT for construction and maintenance meaning that regional highways on these networks will ultimately become state highways
  • Rural major collector roads would be financed by the state with these conditions: 
    • Capital projects are generally local responsibility, but state may also finance projects
    • GDOT may match funds on local projects up to 80% if built to state standards
    • Eligible for federal-aid and LMIG for funding matches
    • Both resurfacing and routine maintenance is state responsibility
  • Rural minor collector roads and functionally local roads on-system would receive routine maintenance only by the state
    • Both resurfacing and capital projects must be locally financed
    • Not eligible for federal-aid, but eligible for LMIG
    • GDOT routine maintenance only
  • Urban minor arterial roads are financed by the state for only routine maintenance
    • Capital projects are local responsibility
    • Eligible for federal-aid and LMIG for funding matches
    • GDOT routine maintenance only

This new criteria basically divides the state highway system into primary and secondary based on functional classification.  While all roads in this plan may be posted as state routes, it may also be considered to divide the system into primary and secondary where:

  • 12.5% of the roads are state highways (fully financed by GDOT for construction and maintenance)
  • 7.5% of the roads are regional highways (maintained by GDOT, partially financed by GDOT for construction according to the rules above based on functional classification)
  • Regional highways would use a different style route sign than the state shape with a design that utilizes 8" text to appear less important than primary state routes or a dog tag style of sign for roadways that the state does not want to prominently post as a state-maintained road


A sample of regional route marker ideas.  The first one shows a smaller 12" x 18" sign with the direction of the road (perpendicular to route) with the county number (68 for Hall County).  The second shows the same, but at a point where maintenance of the route ends with the region number posted after the county number (144 for Upson County, 2 for "Region 2" not to be confused with GDOT maintenance districts).  The 30" x 6" rectangle is a simpler format used like a street name sign, also including the county name (24 for Catoosa County).  The 24" x 24" rectangle with the 23" x 24" pentagon is for fully signed routes and omits the letter "R" for regional, alphabetical county number, and any reference to region or county.  

Routes added to the primary and secondary system would be numbered as any state route.  Former state route numbers would be restored where applicable and existing routes grandfathered, and new numbers would otherwise be as follows:

  • 600-999 for all federally-aid eligible roads greater than two miles in length (500-599 if GRIP system is abandoned)
  • 1000+ for all minor collector routes or under two miles in length
  • 2000+ for all functionally local roads on-system
DRAWBACKS TO THIS PLAN

The major downside to this proposal, is that it does not take the politics out of local road maintenance nor does it relieve rural counties of any road responsibility on 75-80% of the road system.  While it is an improvement over the current system, it has several disadvantages, including:
  1. It does not offer a comprehensive solution to funding and maintenance issues present on locally-owned roads due to the duplication of services over so many jurisdictions
  2. It does nothing to increase local road standards to where they meet or exceed state levels beyond those newly designated highways
  3. It does not initially encourage any regional cooperation, which is the most beneficial strategy to successfully reduce local reliance on GDOT for road maintenance
  4. It increases state responsibility by at least 7,000 miles when GDOT has made it very clear that they are disinterested in changing their policy of slowly eliminating farm-to-market roads
  5. It is no guarantee that new state mileage will be distributed fairly or equitably
  6. It does not fully relieve counties of the responsibility for the costs of constructing roads on these new routes.
  7. It does nothing to promote cooperative agreements between the local agencies and the state DOT
  8. It provides no guarantee that the state DOT will streamline or improve on its own operations as part of this new responsibility.
  9. The legislature will have to be insistent on making this change, since it is likely to be 100% opposed by GDOT
  10. In the same way that it is easier to create, it is a system that is easy to dismantle meaning that a change in state government policy could unravel it within a decade or less.  

THE OVERALL PLAN

The proportional mileage cap solution is a means of correcting an intentional error made over 40 years ago: the creation of a fixed mileage cap designed to reduce state responsibility through "devolution by evolution".  Every city and every county in the state is suffering from this decision in that they are stuck maintaining more and more roads than they have resources to maintain.  Unlike a more sweeping proposal that restructures the system to produce better local standards, this proposal simply removes the cap and replaces it with a proportional mileage cap where mileage is limited to a ratio instead of a fixed number.  In addition to that, the proportion is raised from the current 14.3% up to 20% to adjust for the nearly 7,000 miles of roads that were transferred to local maintenance in that time period in order to maintain the 18,000 mile cap.  While not all former state routes removed would be restored, every county would have the chance to add, on average, 44 miles of new state routes with the highest amounts going to rural counties with the lowest present ratio of state control.

The purpose of making this adjustment is to allow the state highway system to grow with the overall growth of the public road system while creating a one-time correction in order to allow highways that should not be local responsibility to transfer to the state highway system.  It also creates and maintains a sensible ratio of farm-to-market roads that is substantially closer to the federal-aid eligibility ratio, excluding urban collectors, of 22% bringing the state highway system more in line with the functional highway system.  Because that ratio, including urban collectors, is just over 25%, an additional 5% increase (another 6,000 miles) is also recommended after the initial 20% cap is established.  Overall, the state highway system would jump from 18,000 to approximately 25,000 miles.  After five years, the added ratio would bring the total mileage to over 31,000 miles allowing the new system mileage to phase in slowly.

Due to the enormous costs that the state would assume adding these roads to the state highway system, it makes sense to create a compromise where the state's sole responsibility is actually reduced from the current 14.3% to 12.5% while requiring that local governments fund construction on the remaining state roads.  Due to that, the system would be split into two categories: state highways and regional highways.  Regional highways would be defined as such since their purpose is more regional meaning that local and regional taxes would primarily finance major improvements while GDOT funding would finance state highways.  Regional would also someday be redefined as meaning a cooperative of counties managing their own state DOT to maintain these roads as a "state within a state", a proposal that will be further defined in a later proposal.  Thus, this expansion of the state system to cover 20-25% of the roads would essentially be a bridge to regional control in the future.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

NW GA Confusion: A need to relocate GA 5 and create a new US highway

Driving on the NW side of Atlanta off the interstates is quite confusing.  Many state highways are not very logical in their routing with useless routings, destinations that do not make sense, and endpoints that are not logical.  In addition, the highway numbers themselves are problematic such as Georgia's ill-advised GA 515 designation.  For years, local residents have been confusing I-575 and GA 515 due to how close the numbers are.  In addition, GA 515 adds four routes to a stretch of highway from Ellijay to Blue Ridge making it difficult to figure out what to call the road.  GA 5 has been in existence since 1921.  GA 515 has only been in existence since 1989.  Only two GRIP corridors have been assigned, GA 515 and GA 520.  Both have special color-coded shields that aren't even eligible for federal funding, and they add clutter to the highways they follow.  While GA 520 led to the decommissioning of part of GA 55, GA 515 was just tacked onto several already existing highways.


You can see here how GA 515 cluttered up the APD corridor putting four routes on one highway.  Photo from 2004.

Furthermore, GA 5 itself has become completely irrelevant as a highway.  With exception to the spur from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, it is either not an important road or is overlapped by some other highway.  Its route through Cobb County is so convoluted it is useless for through traffic.  Any GPS would not even guide traffic along its route.  A simple GPS search from Marietta to Douglasville directs traffic on a former GA 5 alignment (Powder Springs Road) then down locally-owned Brownsville Road.  Even GDOT knows this considering how many times GA 5 has been relocated in Cobb County.


GA 5's convoluted route through Marietta demonstrates that it is neither on the shortest nor best route.  It has been moved at least 4-5 times onto different routes since 1983.  It originally went directly from Marietta to Powder Springs then out of the way on US 278 through Austell to Douglasville.  Today, the route has TEN turns between I-575 and Douglasville.  That is an unacceptable number of turns at intersections for a major route.  Travelers in the region typically have to use local roads due to the poor routing of GA 5.  Photo from 2007.

In Douglas and Carroll Counties, GA 5 goes 45 miles through the middle of nowhere while GA 61 inexplicably terminates shy of what should be its destination in Carrollton ending into the less important 166.  At the very least, GA 5 still serves a purpose north of Whitesburg in that it is the only direct route between Douglasville and Newnan.  West of Whitesburg, however, it is a roadway with little traffic or purpose.  Roopville is the only incorporated town along the route, and its fortunes were mostly tied to US 27.  The rerouting of US 27 wrecked the town economically, but GA 5 does not even go through it.   Routes into Paulding County were also discussed on a prior post in how they don't line up with traffic patterns.  A lot of this can be cleared up by something that is pretty simple: relocate, truncate, and reassign GA 5 and assign a new US route to tie all this together.

DETAILS OF THE NEW GA 5 ROUTE AND RELATED ROUTE CHANGES CONNECTED WITH GA 5

How this works is through the following steps:

  1. Relocate GA 5 from west of Bowdon to Marietta.  It will be relocated along the following routes:
    • GA 100 overlap from the current GA 5 turn in Bucktown to GA 166 in Bowdon
    • GA 166 overlap from GA 100 in Bowdon to GA 61
    • Current GA 61 from GA 166 to US 278 in Dallas
      • This portion will result in a temporary overlap with GA 61 (to be signed as "FORMER") with an ultimate reassignment as GA 5
    • US 278 from current GA 61 in Dallas to GA 120
      • Route is overlapped with US 278, GA 6, and GA 120
    • GA 120 from US 278 to Barrett Parkway
      • This portion will result in a temporary overlap with GA 120 between Macland Rd/GA 360 in Dallas to Barrett Pkwy with GA 120 ultimately relocated to current GA 360
    • Barrett Parkway from GA 120 to I-575
      • This is currently a county-owned road from GA 120 to US 41 and GA 5 Connector from US 41 to I-575
      • GA 120 from Barrett Parkway to North Marietta Pkwy/GA 120 Alt in Marietta would be decommissioned with mileage transferred to Barrett Parkway
  2. Make the following changes to the current GA 5 from Bucktown to Marietta
    • Renumber existing GA 5 from GA 100/Bucktown to US 78 in Douglasville as GA 235
      • The portion of GA 5 to be renumbered GA 235 west of Whitesburg should be ultimately decommissioned to allow mileage to transfer to more useful routes
    • If GA 5 west of Whitesburg is decommissioned, transfer part of mileage to South Fulton Parkway/Capps Ferry Road and designate South Fulton Pkwy/Capps Ferry Road as GA 386
      • GA 386 should overlap GA 70 to US 29 Alt then replace the GA 14 Alt designation to I-285 thus unifying the road under a single route designation
    • As part of the relocation, GA 5 is removed along its lengthy overlap with US 78 between Bill Arp Road west of Douglasville and Austell Road in Cobb County
    • Decommission GA 5 along Austell Road or renumber back to GA 340
      • The GA 340 designation, if used, should be routed onto East-West Connector/Barrett Pkwy from its intersection with Austell Road to the current intersection of Dallas Hwy/SR 120 (future SR 5)
    • Decommission GA 5 along South Atlanta Street/Pearl Drive from GA 280/South Cobb Drive to GA 120/South Mariett Pkwy in Marietta
    • Overlaps of GA 5 through Marietta are removed from the following roads:
      • Along GA 280 from Pearl Street to Austell Road
      • Along GA 120 from South Atlanta Street to Powder Springs Street/GA 360
      • Along North Marietta Pkwy/GA 120 Alt from Powder Springs Street/GA 360 to Cobb Pkwy/US 41
      • Along Cobb Pkwy/US 41 from North Marietta Pkwy/GA 120 Alt to Canton Road Connector/GA 5
      • Along I-75 and I-575 from Canton Road Connector to Barrett Pkwy
    • Renumber Canton Road Connector from Church St Extension to Canton Road as GA 407 Spur or GA 905; route may be unsigned to avoid confusion or assigned partially as I-75 Business Spur west of I-75
      • The reassignment of Canton Road Connector should include an 0.3 mile extension of state maintenance on the Canton Road Connector from the US 41 overpass to Church Street Extension
      • The renumbering is due to the fact that GA 5 Spur will be orphaned from its parent route (GA 5) due to the relocation to Barrett Pkwy
    • Remove banner from GA 5 Connector along Barrett Pkwy from US 41/Cobb Pkwy to I-575 to make it just GA 5
      • Interstate signs need to be updated to show that GA 5 follows that route
  3. Revoke GA 515 designation from GA 5 from Nelson to Blue Ridge and from US 76/GA 2 from Blue Ridge to near Hiawassee
    • New GRIP routes aren't even being assigned, and this source of confusion needs to be eliminated with GA 5 restored to its former prominence
    • GA 5 signs may be reverted to a blue sign with a reference to the corridor status added to it like what is currently in place with GA 515, preferably as a separate plaque.
    • NOTE: Corridor V in Alabama uses the current route numbers (US 72/AL 2) simply changing the color to blue and adding the APD corridor information to the sign
  4. Work to assign a new US route to the entire GA 5 route south of Blue Ridge once changes are completed.
    • The preferred route number is US 327.
      • The number is chosen as a spur of US 27 from Carrollton to Ranger, NC tying Atlanta and the western suburbs directly to Corridor K and the North Carolina mountains
      • US 419 is the other option as a spur of US 19 from Ranger, NC
    • The highway would begin initially at US 27 where GA 16/166 currently intersects in Carrollton and end at US 64/74 in North Carolina
      • If assigned US 419, the ending would be slightly east of where US 327 would end to end at US 19 concurrent with US 64/74
      • It follows the entire proposed route of GA 5 except east of Blue Ridge where it follows US 76, GA 60, GA 60 Spur and NC 60
  5. Eventually, Alabama officials should be approached about a westward extension to Wetumpka, AL following GA 5 into Alabama then following the following Alabama highways:
    • AL 48 to AL 49 in Lineville
    • AL 49 in Lineville to AL 22 in New Site
    • AL 22 in New Site to AL 259 west of Alexander City
    • AL 259 from AL 22 to AL 9 in Equality
    • AL 9 from Equality to US 231 in Wetumpka
    • An suggested alternate routing eventually adjusts the route more directly along existing county roads from Lineville to Alexander City following:
      • Sardis Road/CR 35 from AL 77 to Bluff Springs Rd
      • Bluff Springs Road from Sardis Rd Bluff Valley Rd in Bluff Springs
      • Bluff Valley Road in Bluff Springs to Clay CR 5
      • Clay CR 5 from Bluff Valley Rd to AL 63
      • AL 63 from Hackneyville to AL 22 in Alexander City
    • Note that the alternate routing will require
      • functional reclassification (parts are currently minor collector or local)
      • substantial reconstruction of the listed roads in order to comply with state highway standards
      • many intersections will require realignment.
  6. Other Proposed Route Changes on Area Routes in Conjunction to GA 5
    • Renumber GA 16 west of Carrollton through Mt. Zion as GA 210
      • GA 16 west of Carrollton was NOT an original part of GA 16.  It was added in 1973 as an extension of GA 16 that previously ended in Carrollton
      • GA 210 was previously used on a short stretch of what is today GA 189 in Lookout Mountain
    • Relocate GA 16 onto current GA 166 between the current junction with GA 166 and the Alabama State Line
      • Existing GA 166 will be relocated onto what is presently GA 166 Connector to end at US 27
    • Add GA 340 as a new state route following a portion of its original routing on Austell Road in Cobb County
      • Northern portion of route will follow Barrett Pkwy/East-West Connector from Dallas Hwy/Current GA 120 to Austell Road/Current GA 5
      • Middle portion follows Austell Road/Current GA 5 from East-West Connector to US 78/278 in Austell
      • Southern portion will follow Maxham Road from US 78/278 in Austell to Thornton Rd/GA 6 in Lithia Springs.  This ties currently county East-West Connector/Barrett Parkway to I-20
    • Add Windy Hill Road in Cobb County as GA 360 (tying into the current GA 360, future GA 120)
      • This was discussed in a prior plan
The maps below show the routes as described above:


The new GA 5 route relocated from Douglasville, Whitesburg and Roopville to Villa Rica, Carrollton and Bowdon.  Note the other changes to existing GA 5, GA 16, GA 166, and Capps Ferry Road (east of McWhorter).  Proposed US 327 is also shown.


Route changes in Paulding and Cobb County showing the new route of GA 5 and the subsequent changes to other routes related to the former alignment of GA 5.  GA 61 south of Dallas is now GA 5.  Two new routes, GA 235 and 340 are shown while 360 is on an entirely new route and 120 has been shifted south onto current GA 360.  US 327 is shown joining GA 5 cutting across from Villa Rica through Dallas to Kennesaw connecting I-20 to I-575.



In Blue Ridge, the new route of US 327 is shown as well as the removal of GA 515.  The terminus of US 327 at US 64/74 in North Carolina is barely visible.  The other portions where GA 515 is removed and US 327 added between Marietta and Ellijay are not shown since they are the only changes.

A SUMMARY OF PROPOSED ROUTE CHANGES TO GA 5
  1. GA 5 is relocated from near the Alabama border to Marietta
  2. Existing GA 5 is either decommissioned or reassigned between the Alabama border and Marietta depending on the section and state priorities
  3. GA 61 is truncated to Dallas and GA 120 relocated between Dallas and Marietta due to the changes with GA 5
  4. GA 515 is decommissioned as GA 5 is again given higher prominence
  5. A new U.S. highway is assigned along much of GA 5 from Carrollton to Blue Ridge and along other routes to Ranger, NC.  It will be numbered either US 327 or US 419 in sequential reference to its parent routes of US 27 or US 19.
  6. The new U.S. highway would ultimately be extended west along the relocated GA 5 into Alabama depending on if Alabama is interested in assigning a new U.S. route along the proposed routing

An alternate means of identifying the APD corridor from Marietta to Hayesville, NC that does not require two route designations.

PROPOSED ADDITION AND DELETION OF STATE MILEAGE

Addition (19.6 miles):

  • Barrett Parkway from GA 120/Dallas Hwy to US 41/Cobb Pkwy in Marietta (4.6 miles)
    • This portion would be part of GA 5 (eventually US 327)
  • Capps Ferry Road/South Fulton Parkway from GA 70 to GA 166 (5 miles)
    • To be designated with a new route number, preferably 386
    • 386 would replace GA 14 Alt and overlap GA 70
  • Barrett Pkwy/East-West Conn. from Austell Road/Current GA 5 to GA 120/Dallas Hwy (7.9 miles)
    • Will be assigned as a resurrected GA 340 that will follow Austell Road south of East-West Connector
  • Canton Road Connector from Church St Extension to US 41/GA 3 (0.3 miles)
    • Was part of GA 5 until 2007
  • Maxham Road from US 78/278/GA 8 in Austell to Thornton Rd/GA 6 in Lithia Springs (1.8 miles)

Capps Ferry Road in Douglas County is the only river crossing over the Chattahoochee River between GA 92/166 near Douglasville and US 27 Alt/GA 16 near Whitesburg and ties into South Fulton Parkway, which was completed in 2006.  It is also a major commuter route to the Atlanta Airport, College Park, and Atlanta.  It belongs on the state highway system, but was passed over due to the mileage cap.  Hopefully this portion can be included as part of the changes to GA 5.   Photo from 2007.

Deletion (34.8 miles):

  • GA 5 from GA 100 in Bucktown to US 27 Alt/GA 16 in Whitesburg (24 miles)
    • Portion northeast of Whitesburg to US 78 in Douglasville should be reassigned GA 235 and retained due to it being the only direct route between Newnan and Douglasville as well as I-20
    • GA 235 was previously assigned to local streets in Atlanta and hasn't been assigned to any other route since the 1950's
    • The 235 designation was chosen because it cannot be confused with any other route numbers in the area
  • GA 5/Austell Road from East-West Connector in Mableton to GA 280/South Cobb Drive in Marietta (5.5 miles)
    • Reassignment of GA 340 south of East-West Connector
    • Transfer to local control north of East-West Connector
  • GA 5/Atlanta St & Pearl St in Marietta from GA 280 to GA 120 (1.1 miles)
    • Already proposed for turnback when a suitable new route for GA 5 was found
  • GA 120/Dallas Hwy & Whitlock Avenue in Marietta from Barrett Pkwy to GA 120 Alt (4.2 miles)
    • A proposed widening project on Whitlock Avenue has been resisted and controversial necessitating the need to find a different route for GA 120 to reduce through traffic on this street
    • GA 120 will be relocated to current GA 360 in order to facilitate the removal of this portion of highway
    • GA 5 will replace GA 120 west of Barrett Pkwy

In addition, the 8.1 miles needed to add Windy Hill Road onto the state highway system in Cobb County as GA 360 would be available under this plan leading to a net sum of 7.1 miles of highway removed.

WHY THESE CHANGES?

GA 5 is a major highway that has been poorly routed and vetted for some time.  Due to difficulties coming up with a suitable route between Douglasville and Marietta coupled with the replacement of the two-lane GA 5 north of Marietta with I-575 and the APD corridor in the 1980's, GA 5 has become a relic that no longer serves current traffic pattern.  In addition, GA 5 is no longer necessary in Douglasville due to I-20 and GA 92 becoming the prominent routes through the city.  GA 5 south and west of Douglasville is a suitable route to Newnan, but it is not a suitable route for GA 5 since GA 5 continues into Alabama as AL 46.  In addition, Carrollton has a poor orientation of routes coming into the city from the east since they were patched together after US 78 Alt was decommissioned.  Bowdon also deserves to benefit from having a major highway pass through the city where traffic may avoid the city via the current GA 5.

North of Marietta, GA 5 is essentially an alternate for US 19 from near Murphy, NC to Atlanta, but the lack of a suitable reconnection point in Atlanta coupled with the need for a better defined route along the northwest side of Atlanta means that a different US route number is needed that breaks away from the APD corridor near the end of I-575.  In addition, GDOT has caused GA 5 to diminish in importance due to the 1989 addition of GA 515 when it should have never been assigned as an overlap.  Given that prevailing traffic patterns from Marietta to Dallas, Villa Rica, and Carrollton follow these routes while Douglasville is not a suitable destination for GA 5 anymore, it makes sense to adjust the highways to better meet the needs of those who use them.  

Moving GA 5 and assigning it a new US route number will also highlight the importance in upgrading these roads to better serve traffic along those roads.  It has long been identified that current GA 61 between I-20 and Dallas needs substantial upgrades, and Carrollton is not properly connected via GA 61.  This plan will also allow GDOT to relocate GA 120 away from controversial Whitlock Avenue in Marietta onto a less controversial GA 360 while keeping a state number on the current Dallas Highway west of Marietta.  Without GA 5, a new route number would have to be assigned to Dallas Highway.  The plan also includes all existing state routes except for a mere 4.6 miles along Barrett Parkway that would transfer to state control with the addition of Capps Ferry Road, Barrett Pkwy/East-West Connector and a piece of the Canton Road Connector not required as part of this project.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Atlanta's Connection to Paulding County: A Confusing Yet Fixable Conondrum

Of all of the Atlanta suburbs, none are more poorly connected than those in Paulding County.  In the past decade, Paulding County was one of the fastest growing counties despite a total lack of adequate routes designated to reach the county.  With no interstate access and few state highways designated to reach the county directly, it is exacerbating traffic problems unnecessarily.  Overall traffic patterns are irregular, routes do not connect correctly, bottlenecks are leading to regular gridlock, major intersections are choking traffic and traffic is to say the least a mess.


State highway routings through Cobb County are too limited and have caused nothing but confusion and congestion for years.  It is time for a major change.

What has changed, however, is the commitment by Cobb County to build roads that funneled traffic onto major routes has succeeded and has been for the most part completed.  While these roads were planned and constructed by Cobb County and are mostly surface arterials, the time has come for those roads to transfer to state authorities along with some badly needed upgrades and changes beyond what the county can afford.  These routes constructed primarily for the benefit of Paulding County commuters include:

  • Ernest Barrett Parkway
  • East-West Connector
  • Richard Sailors Parkway/Powder Springs Road
  • Windy Hill Road Connector
  • C.H. James Parkway (GA 6)
In addition, a new highway connecting I-75 directly to Paulding County is proposed on the Northwest corner of the county providing access to U.S. 41 and existing Dabbs Bridge Road along present-day Third Army Road.  

THE PROBLEM

What stands out in this attempt primary by Cobb County to fix the road situation is that GDOT has shown absolutely no concern about the extremely outdated highway routings throughout the county.  The last major shift in highway routings came in 1983 with the last new state route (former GA 120 Loop) completed in 1989.  Since then, new construction has been primarily a county affair.  These new roads are not just a local concern.  They were built intentionally to transfer traffic to new routes.  When traffic shifts to new routes, state and in some cases new U.S. routes should follow.  That has not been the case.

Marietta in particular has been trying to get commuter traffic out of the city for the past 25 years.  That cannot be done when the state continues to route highways close in to the city instead of pushing traffic to these newer and better roads.  In addition, Paulding County has not placed the emphasis on improving its own connections requiring a greater state focus on fixing these problems.  Heavy traffic congestion on U.S. 278 and a focus on GA 120 as a principal arterial route to I-75 through Marietta has exacerbated the problem.  Even worse is how GDOT let GA 381 go off-system in the early 1990's when it still functions as a major route between the county seat of Dallas and I-75/Northwest Cobb County.  In effect, signage is very poor, state routings are ineffective and traffic is discouraged from using any route to reach the county.  More needs to be done, but the primary focus needs to be on fixing state highway routings as well as creating one to two new U.S. routes passing through the region to better align traffic patterns.  In addition, both the counties and the state need to focus future funding into creating more interchanges and grade separations to move traffic more quickly through the entire region.  Road widening can only do so much when principal intersections routinely hold up traffic.  

THE INITIAL CHANGES: NEW HIGHWAY DESIGNATIONS AND ROUTES

Overall, the list above presents some of the roads that must be transferred to state control as a means of adjusting traffic patterns more evenly across the county.  Unfamiliar motorists and commercial interests are likely to avoid roads they do not know as well or think will slow them down because they are not a major route.  Despite the county's best efforts, in no case are these locally constructed routes signed or marked in a fashion to function as highways.  They lack guide signs, trailblazers and route designations making them no better than any other road.  Google still ignores some of these routes due to their lack of status as an official highway leading people along longer routes unnecessarily.  The changes to each road are listed after the caption:


The map above highlights the proposed series of major route changes in Cobb and Paulding Counties to improve east-west connections.  The map above is one of two options with the description of each change below.  Primarily affected roads include Macland Road, Windy Hill Road, Powder Springs Road, East-West Connector, Barrett Parkway and Dallas Highway.

Barrett Parkway (I-575 to Austell Road/GA 5)

It is fairly obvious to anyone that the route of GA 5 through Marietta no longer has any useful value.  Since GA 5 was moved off of Church and Cherokee Streets in 2007, the highway routing is extremely convoluted making it useless to through traffic.  The intention was clear to remove truck traffic from Marietta, but the route still zig zags through the city with far too many turns to be useful.  Any route through Marietta will not save time, and the only logical routing today is along Fairground Street from U.S. 41 to GA 280.

 

The removal of GA 5 from Church and Cherokee Streets in 2007 created such a convoluted route that it has rendered the highway useless throughout Cobb County while GA 120 is inadequate as an east-west route.  The problem is that GA 5 already has a by-pass, and the state has so far been unwilling to move GA 5 to that road.

In other words, GA 5 needs a new route and Barrett Parkway is more than adequate.  It is four lanes, direct, a designated principal arterial, built to modern engineering standards and connects both ends of GA 5 far more directly than the current route.  The only problem is that the roadway was built by the county and is "not to state standards".  This last line is irksome, because lately GDOT has been placing impossible thresholds on local governments as to what "state standards" are as a means of making sure they can never add any road to the state system.  That is a ridiculous and insulting argument.  If a road carries state highway traffic and is built to acceptable engineering standards it should be a STATE HIGHWAY.  Period.  

Obviously there is one small situation with the portion of GA 5 between U.S. 41 and I-75 and its bannered GA 5 Spur section.  These two stretches of roadway are too expensive to transfer to local control, but this does not mean that GA 5 should keep a stupid route just to avoid renumbering the road.  GA 401 Spur used as a secret designation is an easy solution to this dilemma or GA 3 Spur as a spur off of U.S. 41.  I-75 Business Spur is also a sensible possibility helping to better define the roadway's connection to Marietta. GA 5 through Marietta could also become a business route as a means of avoiding other changes. Obviously also restoring state control to Canton Road (Old GA 5) is a possibility as well, but not as GA 5.  That is also a separate issue that will be later discussed when the broader state system reform plan is unveiled.  

The new Barrett Parkway route is very straightforward.  Since I-575 is already part of GA 5, the route is set up like this:
  • Route starts at I-575 and extends west/southwest along Barrett Parkway replacing GA 5 Connector with GA 5 to U.S. 41
  • South of U.S. 41, the state takes over control of Barrett Parkway along the entire roadway from U.S. 41 to Powder Springs Road
  • East of Powder Springs Road, the road name changes to East-West Connector but GA 5 continues eastward until the intersection of Austell Road
  • At Austell Road, GA 5 turns right (south) onto Austell Road
  • Austell Road north of East-West Connector is transferred to Cobb County, designated with a new route number (most likely reverting back to GA 340) or established as part of a business route for GA 5 through the city along most of the current route
  • If GA 5 Business is established through Marietta, it should be routed along Fairground Street between South Cobb Drive (GA 280) and U.S. 41 in lieu of its current routing.
East-West Connector/Powder Springs Road

In the plan for Barrett Parkway, a portion of East-West Connector becomes GA 5.  However, all of the East-West Connector is a principal arterial with a parkway-style freeway portion between Hicks and Fontaine Roads.  It is also one of two principal commuter routes into Paulding County.  Obviously in its current state it cannot be assigned as part of another route since it really does not replace other routes.  While U.S. 278 could perceivably be routed this way, this route runs too close to existing U.S. 78/278 (formerly Bankhead Highway) and would require restoring Atlanta Road (Old U.S. 41/Old GA 3) to the state system.  The best solution is to assign a new route number to the road from its intersection with South Cobb Drive/GA 280 to GA 5 and then along Powder Springs Road from Barrett Parkway to U.S. 278 in Powder Springs.  The new route would include an overlap with GA 5 between Powder Springs Road and Austell Road.  Potential numbers are numerous, but to avoid confusion probably a new assignment is best: most likely unused GA 386.


Here is what you don't see on one of Cobb County's most major routes.  The altered image above shows this scene in what is shown on the map above as a proposed overlap of a relocated GA 5 and a new GA 386, but today this county-maintained intersection provides no real indication of the shortest and best way for commuters to reach cities in Cobb and beyond.  The result is under-utilization of portions of this major road while traffic clogs streets through Marietta (Image from Google Street View).


East-West Connector opened along this stretch near Mableton in 1997.  It is today a major commuter route from Atlanta to Paulding County, but it remains a county road.

Windy Hill Road/Macland Road

This road is currently a very unique situation.  Prior to the completion of the Windy Hill/Macland Connector in 2012, no direct route existed from Dallas to Smyrna and by extension I-75.  While Windy Hill Road was a major road, its terminus at Austell Road presented no real alternative to anything but local traffic.  By extension, Macland Road was simply an alternate route for GA 120 from Marietta to Dallas with fewer upgrades.  The connection of these two roads changed everything.  Now that this vital connection was created, a full southern by-pass of Marietta exists directly linking I-75 to Paulding County.  The only problem is that it is not a state route and has not yet been classified a principal arterial.  


Obviously upgrades are needed on this two lane stretch of Macland Road in western Cobb County, but since this road was connected to I-75 it has become likely the most major surface highway in the region.  It deserves an upgrade not just to a four lane but to a new U.S. highway.

Another problem is that poor connectivity still exists in Paulding County.  Instead of directly linking to U.S. 278, drivers must take a jog along GA 120 from U.S. 278 to reach Macland Road/GA 360.  A new route is needed that ties together these two routes allowing the option to take either route with only one turn, and this new route should preferably form an interchange where it meets.  In addition, the rerouting of GA 120 through Marietta has made GA 360 a better option for GA 120 than Whitlock Avenue and Dallas Highway.

Furthermore, U.S. 278 along its current route is effectively useless.  It does not connect to I-20, it mostly follows U.S. 78 and it is neither the shortest nor best route.  Two options are available to fix this problem:
  1. Reroute U.S. 278 onto Macland Road and Windy Hill Road so that it connects to I-75 then route U.S. 278 down I-75 to rejoin the existing U.S. 278 in Atlanta
  2. Reroute U.S. 278 onto I-20 so that it connects to I-20, but designate Macland Road and Windy Hill Road as U.S. 278 Alternate along the same prescribed route above.  U.S. 278 Alternate would cover existing U.S. 278 between I-75/85 in Atlanta and Lithonia where U.S. 278 currently joins I-20.
Realistically, until the Macland connection is fixed, U.S. 278 Alternate is the better option.  In addition, U.S. 278 Alternate makes more sense since the route it would take from I-75 eastward is convoluted anyway.  Its current route is also convoluted, but the relocation makes sense in that it separates it from existing U.S. 78 onto a more useful route.  Either way, U.S. 278 is relocated and Macland/Windy Hill Road takes some form of U.S. 278.  

Also, the relocation of GA 120 effectively eliminates GA 360.  However, the new designation of Windy Hill Road requires a state overlap.  The result is that the new road becomes GA 360 while the original route is re-designated.  At this point, the situation is pretty confusing, so it will be further explained like this:
  • All of existing GA 360 becomes GA 120.  Former GA 120 becomes GA 120 Alt along Dallas Highway and Whitlock Avenue.  
  • The short connection between GA 120 and 120 Alt in Marietta becomes GA 120 Connector (note that GA 5 is moved out of Marietta requiring this change).  It would be mostly signed with trailblazers to either route.
  • Windy Hill Road/Macland Road is designated as a new GA 360 upgrading it from a county road
  • Windy Hill Road/Macland Road becomes either a relocated U.S. 278 or U.S. 278 Alternate
  • If Windy Hill Road/Macland Road becomes U.S. 278 Alternate, then U.S. 278 is relocated to I-20 between the Thornton Road/GA 6 interchange and Covington.
C.H. James Parkway/Thornton Road

If the above route changes take place, U.S. 278 is either removed from C.H. James Parkway entirely or is relocated onto Thornton Road to reach I-20.  If it is relocated in that direction, then U.S. 278 and I-20 share a route throughout Atlanta.  Thornton and C.H. James Parkway will not, however, lose their GA 6 designation.

Whitlock Avenue/Dallas Highway/Marietta Highway

If GA 120 is relocated onto Macland Road, GA 120 would have to change designations.  Initially, this could be an extension of GA 120 Alt.  However, if Whitlock Avenue is removed from the state system east of Barrett Parkway, a new route designation will be required west of that.  The recommended designation is GA 258 since the number is available, is not confused with other numbers in the area and was long ago replaced with another route designation on its original routing.  

Third Army Road/Dabbs Bridge Road

It is not enough just to link Dabbs Bridge Road to I-75 and still assume Dabbs Bridge Road is an unimportant county road.  Dabbs Bridge Road will in fact become a major highway when the new connection is built.  Funding will need to be established to rebuild and in some cases relocate this road from U.S. 41 to GA 61, and a new state or numbered county highway route should be established along this road and Braswell Mountain Road to the west.  The creation of this route as a new highway will provide an alternate route for commuters into western Paulding and Rockmart beyond to relieve traffic on other routes into the county including U.S. 278 and Windy Hill Road.  Note that numbered county roads will be discussed in depth at a future time.

U.S. 327: Separate Proposal Included for Future Reference

The maps show a route labeled "U.S. 327" running along part of existing GA 120 and Barrett Parkway.  While not important to this specific plan, the roadway is an idea for a new U.S. highway linking Carrollton to Murphy, NC.  It is designed to alleviate confusion replacing many major routes in the area with a single designation while placing a badly needed U.S. designation along GA 5/515 north of Marietta.


This route is slightly different from the map proposed above.  In this plan, U.S. 278 is completely rerouted to Macland Road/Windy Hill Road, Dallas Highway/Whitlock Avenue east of Barrett Parkway is transferred to local control and Dallas Highway west of Barrett Parkway is assigned a new state highway designation.  The core plan mostly remains in place, but this plan allows Marietta the option to forever cancel any programmed improvements to Whitlock Avenue.  U.S. 327 is also shown on both maps as an eventual two-state U.S. highway providing in part a more unified route across the northwestern suburbs.

THE FINAL CHANGES: NEW CONSTRUCTION NEEDED

The plans presented here relocate roadways to better routes coupled with the ability to create better funding for these roads.  However, long-term road improvements will be necessary to make these routes function properly as highways.  The upgrades and intersection improvements are as follows:
  1. New roadway linking U.S. 278 at GA 6 Business in Hiram to present GA 360/Macland Road west of GA 92
    • Project is shown on the provided maps and includes a short four lane roadway with a major interchange where the new routes of GA 120/U.S. 278 Alt, GA 6 Business and U.S. 278 meet
  2. Widening of Macland Road (GA 360/proposed U.S. 278 Alt) from the new roadway connection to Lost Mountain Road (Old GA 176).  
    • This roadway project is already planned, but this change cuts off widening west of the new connector roadway
  3. Interchanges on Macland Road/Windy Hill Road to remove at-grade major intersections.  Macland/Windy Hill will be the primary movement in all cases.
    • Interchange at U.S. 41 (already long-range planned)
    • Interchange at Atlanta Road
    • Interchange at South Cobb Drive/GA 280
    • Interchange at Powder Springs Road
    • Interchange at Lost Mountain Road/New Macland Road/Old GA 176
    • Interchange at Barrett Parkway
  4. Interchanges on Barrett Parkway to remove at-grade major intersections.  Barrett Parkway will be the primary movement in all cases.
    • Interchange at U.S. 41
    • Interchange at Burnt Hickory Road
    • Interchange at Dallas Highway/GA 120 (will be difficult due to development/lack of space)
    • Interchange at Macland Road (same as above)
    • Interchange at Powder Springs Road (lowest priority)
    • Interchange at Austell Road/GA 5
    • Interchange at Floyd Road
    • Grade separation at Hicks Road
  5. GA 6 Interchanges (includes C.H. James Parkway and U.S. 278 in Paulding County)
    • Interchange at Richard Sailors Parkway
    • Interchanges in Hiram at Bill Carruth Parkway and GA 92
    • Interchange with proposed Macland Road Connector
    • Interchange with GA 61
The list above is not a list to be taken lightly, but is necessary as part of adding these routes as major highways.  The sheer cost of constructing 18 new interchanges in a highly urbanized area is staggering, and it is unfortunate that these were not built into the initial design to reduce future costs.  While the both the state and county have invested heavily in these roads, the fact remains that they were not designed to carry the high traffic volumes they carry and will need additional access control to manage high traffic volumes.  Part of the purpose of adjusting these routes is to provide a means to move traffic quickly through Cobb County away from congested downtown areas.  

A COMBINATION OF SHORT-TERM AND LONG TERM SOLUTIONS

The short term solution proposed here is a massive rerouting of highways through Cobb County to better manage the massive traffic heading from Atlanta into Paulding County.  This will mean that some roads will need to be transferred to the local level to make this possible.  This includes almost all non-overlapped portions of GA 5 between U.S. 41 in Marietta and East-West Connector.  The purpose is to route all highways through and around Marietta onto better routes and add major routes to the system regardless of which agency constructed the roadway.  While this will not eliminate traffic, it will alter traffic patterns so as to reduce confusion and take traffic out of Marietta that is generally not local in nature.  

The long term strategy is that by adding these routes to the state highway system that statewide funding can be focused on improving these roads to adequate levels.  Local funding is simply not available to improve these major corridors to the levels of service needed to handle increasing congestion, so state and federal funding will be necessary to begin to eliminate traffic choke points.  In turn, Marietta can be relieved of disturbing/threatening its historic areas by taking major traffic off of the majority of its streets moving it to roads better suited to handle that traffic.