Want a say in how a billion dollars is spent on roads? Here’s your chance.

Macon Area Transportation Study seeks input until March 17 on projects in Macon-Bibb, Jones and Monroe counties


Liz Fabian

Cars follow a construction detour on Spring Street. The public is invited to comment until March 17 on pending transportation projects in Macon-Bibb and parts of Jones and Monroe counties.

Long before construction began on the Interstate 75 interchange in the heart of Macon came years of planning.

The Macon Area Transportation Study, or MATS, is now looking ahead to 2050 as planners plot the course of about a billion dollars worth of projects for Macon-Bibb and portions of Jones and Monroe counties.

“The proposed projects are a combination of new bridge replacements, roadways, pedestrian and bike facilities, transit opportunities, as well as upgrades to the existing transportation infrastructure,” Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning  assistant planning director Gregory Brown said in a news release.

P&Z wants the public’s input on the draft of the 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan and Conformity Determination Report currently online at MaconMPO.com. If that seems like a long title, the draft document is 360 pages, so time is wasting to fully digest it and comment by March 17.

Mercer University professor emeritus Bob Hargrove read every page, but said he realizes most people won’t or can’t invest that kind of time.

“I’m retired,” Hargrove explained.

As a member of the MATS Citizens Advisory Committee, Hargrove is seeking ways to better connect with the public to learn their thoughts and ideas.

During weeks of public meetings seeking input late last year about which projects should be included, only 67 people responded.

“I think that’s abysmally low for the MATS population is well over 150,000,” Hargrove said at last month’s Citizens Advisory Committee.

He said he wants transportation planners to find better ways to communicate.

“We have to improve the way we submit or solicit public comments and that’s not indicated in this report,” he told the committee. “There needs to be a beefed-up procedure for public comment.”

Michael Greenwald, MPO technical coordinator at Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning, said the current process meets federal requirements but outreach efforts were hampered by COVID-19.

“Honestly at this point, the public comment process that was applied up to this point… is going to be applied forthcoming,” Greenwald said in the February called meeting. “This is what we can do in the context of the amount of time we had and the COVID conditions that we’ve encountered.”

‘Should be some meat in the plan’

Hargrove said he sees many issues that are not being addressed, such as pedestrian traffic fatalities on Gray Highway.

“I saw no plan, actually, on what we’re actually going to do to change Gray Highway so that we have less pedestrian deaths,” he said. We’re talking about the next 28 years. There should be some meat in the plan on what we plan to do. We discussed in our meetings we should have a median developed so it gives people an island.”

Changes can be made to the draft document and Hargrove said he is hoping more people will provide feedback in the coming days.

The Interstate 14 project, a decades-old plan to build a freeway from Texas to Augusta gained traction with the passage of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure bill.

The section through Georgia, historically referred to as the Fall Line Freeway, goes through Bibb County, but on existing roadways instead of the newer four-lane, divided highway portions built to connect Columbus and Augusta. Hargrove said he found the report lacking details on that as well.

“It just goes on casual highways. What’s the plan to put I-14 through Bibb County and not affect plans to develop Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park?” he asked. “Trucks are not going to go zigzag through Bibb County. … We need a more comprehensive plan handling Fall Line Freeway traffic from Columbus to Augusta.”

Bicycle and pedestrian traffic concerns are often raised during Citizens Advisory Committee meetings.

“How are those bicycles going to be protected from people speeding along at 40 mph on those arterials? That’s not indicated in the report,” Hargrove said.

The report does include high priorities such as Bass Road and finishing the Forest Hill widening project from Wimbish to Vineville, and a potential overpass on Seventh Street over Brosnan Yard to reroute trucks off MLK Jr. Blvd. in downtown.

The plan makes provisions for the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative to devote 40 percent of investments in areas that were “historically marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution,“ Greenwald said.

As to the length of the document, Greenwald said he was not allowed to “consolidate anything down” from the last document approved by the federal government.

“We need to somehow get the public to realize this is an important issue if you’re interested in any kind of transportation things from now until maybe 2050,” Hargrove said.

Greenwald has circulated the document under review to local agencies and stakeholders.

“Wish we could have gotten more input, but we can only get what the public is willing to give,” he said.

After the public comment period ends March 17, the plan will undergo a final revision before being submitted to federal transportation officials.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.