Traffic at most major Columbia County intersections increased during the past year, according to a new Georgia Department of Transportation study.
Bob Reich, executive director of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, said the reason is simple.
"We just keep growing," he said. "There are more cars and more people. It's as simple as that."
But one busy area, Bobby Jones Expressway at Lowe's, recorded a decrease in traffic flow from 42,046 cars counted during a 24-hour period in 1996 to 38,002 during a similar survey a year later.
"Who knows why that happens?" said DOT Clerk Daisy Brown.
She noted that traffic flow grew noticeably at other areas studied by transportation planners.
For example, a 24-hour survey of Washington Road near the McDonald's restaurant in West Town shopping center showed an increase from 29,109 in 1996 to a whopping 37,076 a year later.
The same report reflected an increase during the same time frame from 15,972 cars traveling on Columbia Road around Merrymont subdivision to 18,328 and from 24,651 cars in front of Club Car to 28,845.
Although DOT officials use the traffic data to plan new roads and other improvements, the revelation that Columbia County has growing traffic problems is no surprise to many local motorists.
"Every time we come over here, it's worse," said Harry Cheeks of North Augusta, as he prepared to leave after eating lunch at Ruth's Diner. "It's extremely frustrating."
Gary Chambers of Clearwater, S.C., agreed. "Especially when you only have 30 minutes for lunch.
Longtime Columbia County residents sometimes harken to the Washington Road of yesteryear, when traffic wasn't an issue.
"Heck, I've been here 22 years and now it's worse here than down by the Masters," said Walt Christy of Martinez. "It's like risking your life, sometimes, pulling out. I don't know if the roads aren't big enough or if the traffic lights just aren't working, but it's awful."
The traffic study will be used to evaluate traffic patterns along Interstate 20, Belair Road, Bobby Jones Expressway and Wrightsboro Road, said DOT Area Engineer Rusty Merritt.
"It was obvious from the traffic backups that the study was needed," he said. "Now they just have to figure out how to get traffic to flow better."