In-person public input toward an update of the Long-Range Transportation Plan for Statesboro and Bulloch County began Monday evening with some of those workshop exercises where people from the community put color-coded sticky dots on charts and maps.
But city and county officials and their consultants from the GMC firm hope to move on to less abstract planning by a second public workshop meeting in February and, by next August, to produce detailed action plans for road improvement projects and potentially also for projects to benefit alternative transportation modes such as walking and cycling, extending through 2045. Projections for funding of projects from federal, state and local sources is also expected for a five-year first stage.
You don’t need sticky dots to have your say about transportation needs and priorities. The online survey was open before Monday, when a scannable QR code was displayed on a table serving as one of the five activity stations during the meeting. But the survey, scheduled to remain open through October, can also be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/LRTPlan.
For example, one of the 24 questions has drivers rank their three greatest challenges to driving in Bulloch from a list of seven possible challenges, not only including congestion, safety concerns and road condition problems such as potholes and debris, but also limited access to EV charging stations.
The full-range planning is expected to take account of traffic growth as the region becomes a hub of electric vehicle manufacturing. In the nearer term, city and county staff hope to extend their cooperation from the planning process to address immediate traffic concerns such as for the rapidly developing areas along Cawana and Burkhalter roads through Burkhalter's intersection with Fair Road.
“This is a joint effort between the city and the county, and we think that’s really important,” said GMC Senior Planner Glenn Coyne, the project manager. “A lot of us who work around the state know it can be really hard to get city and county to work with each other, but that’s happening here, and we’re really happy about that.”
This particular GMC isn’t a brand of pickup truck, but Goodwyn Mills Cawood, a big, Alabama-born architecture and engineering company with offices in seven Southeastern states, including Atlanta, Augusta, Brunswick and Savannah offices here in Georgia. The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and Statesboro City Council agreed this summer to have the county and city each pay half of the $380,000 in fees GMC will charge for guiding and completing the update.
Not a big crowd
Monday’s public input workshop, held at First United Methodist Church in downtown Statesboro, began at 5 p.m., and 21 people signed in during the first hour. That included city and county staff members, some journalists and representatives of organizations often involved in community planning, such as the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and Habitat for Humanity. People who just showed up without any of these affiliations were few.
The last time the Bulloch County and Statesboro transportation plan of this type was updated was in 2009. Many projects from that plan have been completed, so local planners such as the city and county engineers need a list of new projects to look at for the next 20 years, Coyne said.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” he said. “It’s a long-range plan; it isn’t what’s going to happen next month or next year. It’s more looking at 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”
But answering some questions at the end of his introduction, he acknowledged that projects will be scheduled in stages, with some being shorter-range.
“The way that the recommendations are structured, there are short-term, medium-term and long-term,” Coyne said. “So we want to do both. We want to make sure you have some projects you can do right now, but we want to make sure you have projects that can handle that future growth that is coming.”
The planning project timeline slates four such public workshop meetings, the first having been Monday’s, in September, and the fourth next summer. The second is now tentatively slated for February.
“The next time we get together we’ll have probably a list of projects for you to react to, but this time it’s wide-open,” Coyne said. “You tell us what you want us to take a look at.”
Another question participants asked was whether the effects of Hyundai Motor Group’s Metaplant America, the EV and battery manufacturing complex under construction in northern Bryan County, will be factored into the transportation plan.
“Fortunately, our firm just finished the Bryan County Comprehensive Plan they’re going to adopt on October 10th, so we spent a lot of time thinking about that very question, not only in Bryan County but Effingham, Bulloch and really, going up I-16 farther,” Coyne said. “There are some very serious impacts that are coming from that. I’m not sure folks are fully aware as to how big that is, and then every day there is more being added.”
Coyne, GMC Transportation Engineer Rhonda Davis and GMC Planner Kalanos Johnson, with help from some city staffers, guided participants to the five input stations. After the one promoting the online survey, the second had people place color-coded dot stickers on a chart to choose three priorities among topics related to future transportation needs. At the third station, people could place numbered stickers on a map to rank areas of need. The fourth had maps for individuals to mark where they live, work or go to school, shop and go for entertainment or recreation, using blue, red, green and yellow dots.
The fifth station invited the use of post-it notes on a poster or a comment form for general thoughts on transportation in Statesboro and Bulloch.
Input from the local public will not be the only thing guiding the consultants in the planning. Modern Mobility Partners, a subcontractor to GMC, is expected to use an analytical process called travel demand modeling to look at alternative scenarios for traffic growth and transportation needs and how these could be affected by various projects. Traffic counts and Georgia Department of Transportation data will be used in the process, Coyne said.
Getting public input first, followed by the scientific analysis, can help sort out real needs from merely perceived ones, said Statesboro’s Assistant City Engineer David Moyer.
“Sometimes people see an issue, but maybe it just happens to be that there’s congestion in the minutes they’re at that intersection every day going to work, but overall the intersection may work pretty good,” he said. “They’ll do some more work and give us some more information to work on to go forward with programming the projects and trying to address the issues that are out there.”
Asked if there are any immediate growth-related issues of interest to both the city and county, Moyer and County Engineer Brad Deal both talked about the Burkhalter Road and Cawana Road areas between Georgia Highway 67 and U.S. Highway 80 East.
“We have recently been talking to Brad about Cawana Road and Burkhalter because we’re getting a lot of annexation for development going in that direction, down 67. With Cawana, parts of it are in the city and parts of it are in the county and back and forth, and then there are people wanting to annex portions of Burkhalter into the city,” Moyer said. “So we’re going to have to work together to address traffic issues.”