CONYERS - By a unanimous vote, the Covington City Council voted to turn down a Newton County request to permanently close a portion of Hunter Street near the new Judicial Center expansion. The action came at the council’s meeting on Jan. 7.
Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes sent a letter to the city in December asking that Hunter Street be closed:
“Dear Mayor and Council Members:
In an effort to further secure the Judicial Center, Captain Kitchens, head of Judicial Center Security, has requested that the Board of Commissioners petition the City of Covington for partial closure of Hunter Street.
“It is our humble request that Hunter Street be closed to vehicular traffic, except for emergency vehicles, from the southern end of the handicap spaces, to its intersection with Usher Street.
“We are also seeking permission to install removable bollards at Usher Street and at the handicap spaces.
“Thank you for your consideration of this matter.”
A portion of Hunter Street was been closed for almost two years as the Judicial Center was being expanded, and traffic cones continue to keep it closed, even though the facility was officially opened in October.
City Manager Leigh Anne Knight told the council at the work session prior to their meeting Monday night that the city had sent the county a letter asking them to remove the cones since the street had been closed only for construction. She said the county sent the letter requesting the permanent closure following the city’s request.
Knight added that both the city’s public safety and public works departments were urging the council to keep Hunter Street open for better egress from the Square.
“Operations - public safety, public works and myself - we met to talk about this,” she said. “From a city standpoint and a utilization of that street, we believe that street is a vital part of traffic flow in our community, particularly on days when we have events in the downtown area. Prior to the road being closed for construction, that was a very highly trafficked road. It is a way to get out of the downtown area and back out toward (U.S. Highway) 278. So Operations would prefer that it not be closed.”
Knight added that if the council chose to close the street as requested by the county, that they should close the entire street.
“Keep in mind, if you only close from Usher Street to where the handicap parking is, then guess who’s responsible for the handicap parking? The city is,” said Knight. “At that point, all we are doing is paying for a county parking lot that we have to maintain. If you choose to vote to close the road, then I would suggest that you vote to close all of it. We would get Mr. Turner (city attorney) to work with their attorneys in order to have the easement so we can get to our utilities on the road.”
Mayor Ronnie Johnston agreed with the opinion of Operations that the street needs to stay open.
“We’re a growing city,” he said. “We’ve got more flow and more traffic downtown. We need every outlet we can get, in my opinion.”
The council agreed and during the meeting, voted 6-0 to keep Hunter Street open.