COVINGTON - If the Georgia Department of Transportation has its way, residents and visitors traveling along the 3-mile stretch of the U.S. Highway 278 Community Improvement District could see as many as seven roundabouts within the next 20 years.
Kathy Morgan, CID administrator, said the roundabouts and a 35 mph zone could greatly improve the flow of traffic along the corridor, which runs from Ginn Motor Company near the Interstate 20 Exit 90 interchange to Martin’s Crossing Shopping Center at the intersection of 278 and Ga. Highway 142.
After nearly three years of obtaining consent from property owners along the Highway 278 corridor, the board of directors of the Highway 278 Improvement Association voted last year to create the Highway 278 Community Improvement District.
Owners of commercial properties located within the CID agreed to an ad valorem tax of up to 5 percent levied on their properties, which, along with matching state grants, supports improvements that create an upscale commercial district and increase property values. Under Georgia law, a community improvement district can be created with the consent of at least 50 percent plus one of property owners, and the signees must represent at least 75 percent of the assessed value of properties within the proposed district.
Morgan updated the council on the work that has been done since the CID was approved last year.
“We elected a board (Billy Fortson is the city representative) and held a strategic planning session,” she said. “The first thing we had to do was form a master plan. We were informed by GDOT that we cannot consider anything until we get a master plan completed. That’s the process that we’re in right now.
“The board created a mission and a goal,” she continued. “The mission is to become Georgia’s most desirable community to live, work, play and shop. The goal is to increase the CID tax base by 100 percent or greater, and a minimum of increasing the existing property values by 50 percent. This is within five years, so this is an ambitious goal.”
But Morgan added that just the prospect of what could be happening to businesses in the CID has improved the area.
“The CID property values have really ebbed and waned,” she said. “They’ve gone up and down as much as 1-2 percent per year. But since we started the CID process last year, they’ve gone up 4.4 percent, and that’s reflected in the property owners making decisions to renovate their properties and make improvements, and reflected in the types of tenants. They hear everything that is going on in our community, and they want to locate here now before we begin to grow. So it is creating a vibrance and great economy for our community.”
Ryan Thompson, a representative of Thomson & Hutton, the engineering firm chosen to work with the CID board on the master plan, explained some of the process.
“We met with GDOT back in December to show them the concepts and get their feedback,” he said. “GDOT recently has adopted a ‘complete streets’ mentality. A ‘complete streets’ means you are paying attention to more than just the autos. You’re making the pedestrians just as important as the automobiles.”
Thompson added that they initially started creating a pedestrian-oriented and pedestrian-friendly space with street trees, large sidewalks, and a themed plan. They have identified key intersections and are proposing some new intersection designs, including medians in place of the center turn lanes. Thompson said they had included a couple of roundabouts, but that GDOT sees the need for more.
“When we initially met with GDOT staff, we had two roundabouts showing,” Thompson said. “We had a roundabout at Pace Street and one at 142 … When we met with GDOT, they recognized with the medians the need for multiple U-turns and turn arounds. They actually requested us to study and look at adding some additional roundabouts, because they will function better than having the additional U-turns in the corridor.”
“They wanted a total of seven roundabouts,” Morgan added. “The new thing for GDOT is if you want a red light, you have to prove to GDOT that a roundabout will not work before they will give you a permit for a red light.
“The second thing is, on this roadway, the miles per hour will be reduced to 35 mph, and the thing is it is a continuous flow,” she added. “You don’t have a line of cars backed up at a red light, they are continuing to move in their own flow.”
Mayor Ronnie Johnston commented that with roundabouts and a 35 mph speed limit, drivers will get through the corridor quicker than they do now, and noted that if all the plans become reality, Covington will have a “very vivid, awesome commercial corridor.”
Morgan agreed, but added that to do that will take a lot of time and money, which they hope to get a majority of from available state and federal grants. She said they will need the city’s help to do that.
“The CID board does not generate enough funds to provide matching funds for grants on this, so we want you to be our partner from the beginning, because we’re going to ask you to help us fund some of this,” Morgan said. “As we begin these roadways changes, the costs will be significant … You’re our biggest partner, so we want your input.
“This is a long-term project,” she added. “My board would like it done in five years, but realistically it is going to be over a period of 10, 15, 20 years, with different components phased in as the grant opportunities are there.”
For more information on the Highway 278 CID plans, visit their website at www.278CID.com