Growth, lack of infrastructure causing traffic headaches for Grovetown residents

Mayor hopes for help from new sales tax

 EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misidentified Grovetown Mayor George James.

 

A home on Grovetown’s Rob­inson Avenue seemed a perfect opportunity when Michelle Davidson’s husband was stationed at Fort Gordon five years ago.

The two-lane road leading south out of town ends at Fort Gordon’s Gate 2 – an ideal commute of less than a mile.

But the Davidsons weren’t aware of the volume of traffic that flows and often comes to a standstill right at their driveway until after they moved in.

“The Realtor was smart. She didn’t show us the house during peak (traffic) hours,” Davidson said over the growl of log trucks.

The Davidsons join a chorus of complaints about the commuter traffic that clogs Robinson Avenue for two to three hours in the morning and in the afternoon as soldiers and civilians travel between Fort Gordon and home. Those who live in the neighborhoods that line Rob­inson Avenue characterize rush hour as a “headache.”

The concern of residents dealing with daily traffic logjams is that the continued growth of Grovetown, much of it influenced by growth at Fort Gordon, has not been matched by a corresponding improvement in infrastructure.

A traffic study by the Geor­gia Department of Trans­portation estimates that, on average, 12,690 vehicles traveled Robinson Avenue between Hollingsworth Drive and Martha’s Way every day in 2011 – a 51 percent increase over five years before.

“I’m wondering where this traffic is going,” said Carla Clemons, a teacher who has lived in the Summerfield neighborhood for 16 years. On the mornings that traffic backs up more than normal, she texts her supervisors pictures of the gridlock as an excuse for being late.

Census numbers show the population in the small town on Columbia County’s eastern border has grown 84 percent in the past 10 years, from 6,089 in 2000 to 11,216 in 2010. In the past five years, at least four new subdivisions have been completed, representing more than 450 homes, and there’s much more to come.

Robinson Avenue is lined with bright signs advertising projects under development. On the sliver of Robin­son Avenue that juts into Richmond County, the McCoy’s Creek subdivision and its 59 lots are under construction. Richmond County has also approved 13 acres at the southwest corner of the Gordon Highway intersection for a shopping center called Grovetown Centers.

“We’ve had tremendous growth and we’re in the area of Columbia County where growth is coming,” Grovetown Mayor George James said.

The city has anticipated the growth where possible, including installing a new 750,000-gallon water tank and improving water lines along Robinson Avenue. But improving Robinson Ave­nue, which is also State Road 223, takes approval and coordination with the Geor­gia Department of Trans­portation.

James is banking on the July 31 transportation special purpose local option sales tax referendum for help with Robinson Avenue. If approved by the 13-county region that includes Richmond and Columbia counties, it would add a one-cent sales tax for transportation projects. By state estimates, Grove­town would receive just more than $147,000 in 2013 if approved.

James said it would still be two to three years before any changes would happen on Robinson Avenue, but it wouldn’t come in the form of widening; the cost of buying the properties abutting the road is prohibitive. Instead, James anticipates more turn lanes and traffic-calming measures.

“We’re taking it seriously and putting things in place,” he said.

The private sector’s rush to build homes around Fort Gordon is in response to the Army post’s continued growth. The National Security Agency’s new facility opened in March and is expected to produce 4,000 jobs. Other cyber and communications missions
are expected to arrive in the coming years, adding more jobs and families to the area.

“In the future, Fort Gor­don anticipates an increase in traffic on Robinson Ave­nue due to planned expansion of several units on Fort Gordon,” Lt. Col. Hollis Bush, the director of Fort Gordon’s emergency services, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

With that in mind, several measures have been implemented by military officials to improve the flow of traffic through Gate 2. These include working with the Trans­por­tation Department to extend the time of the traffic light at Gate 2 and opening Gate 3 farther down Gordon Highway to noncommercial civilians. An automated entry access control system is being installed at all gates.

While the changes might improve the flow of traffic, it won’t take away the volume. Davidson installed an extra deadbolt at the top of her door when she moved to Robinson Avenue to keep her children from slipping outside. She’s resigned to the fact that traffic is only going to get busier.

“It makes me a nervous wreck,” she said.

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