When Megan Burnam of south Bibb County travels to and from a north Bibb school, she often has to contend with backed-up traffic at a couple of intersections within a mile of the school.
“In the morning is the worst for me because you have (Academy for Classical Education) traffic and Georgia Farm Bureau traffic, and then there is some kind of construction or there are big trucks," said Burnam, whose daughter attends the charter school. “From the time I get off (interstate 75) to get to ACE, it takes me about 15 minutes.
"But the afternoon traffic is still crazy, and I know it's our school that causes all of the traffic," she said. "I hate it."
ACE had about 760 students for kindergarten through eighth grade its first year in 2014. It has been adding a grade each year since, and for fall 2017 it had 1,541 students for K-11, according to the Georgia Department of Education. It will add the 12th grade this fall. Buses are not used at charter schools, so students have to have their own transportation.
While there have been discussions for years to widen Bass Road, which would relieve existing and future traffic in the area, that project is still on the long-range plan, and it likely would be more than a decade before it would be completed.
If a proposed shopping center off Bass Road at Starcadia Circle — approved by the zoning commission last month — moves forward, it would add more traffic to that area within a couple of years.
The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission approved a conditional-use permit March 12 for a 185,000-square-foot shopping center at 1625 Bass Road, to be known as North Macon Plaza.
The proposed shopping center would be built on about 19 acres of an existing 27-acre site surrounded by Starcadia Circle. This is the latest of several plans for more than 10 years to put retailers on the site, which is owned by an entity of Macon-based Fickling & Co.
Mike Cohn, president of Berkley Development, which is developing the shopping center, said recently that the company still expects to break ground later this year and open in fall 2019. He said he was aware of the long-range plan to widen Bass Road.
But not all the traffic that would go into the shopping center would be new traffic to the area.
Some people who regularly travel Bass Road — especially between Riverside Drive and the Publix shopping center near Providence — which would include employees, residents and those such as Burnam traveling to ACE, could likely stop in the new shopping center.
"I'm sure I would (shop there) because it's convenient," Burnam said. "But I'm still leery about it. One is the traffic, then two, the crime that comes when you put in businesses. ... It worries me, too."
Widening involves long process
Burnam and other Bass Road travelers near the I-75 interchange looking for relief when Bass Road is widened will have a long wait.
When the new shopping center came up at the zoning commission meeting, the need for a traffic study didn't come up. One reason? The property was already zoned for commercial use, said Jim Thomas, executive director of the planning and zoning office.
"And because we know that the Bass Road widening project is a high priority in the TSPLOST (special purpose sales tax for transportation)," Thomas said. "We are trying to push that project along the best we can."
County traffic engineer Nigel Floyd said his office would be asking the developer to do a traffic study to determine how much traffic now exists and to see how much traffic the shopping center would generate.
That study, while it might not impact the timing of the Bass Road widening project, could indicate whether an intersection needs a signal light or the timing of existing signals needs to change, Floyd said.
The referendum for the regional TSPLOST will be on the May 22 ballot as part of the general election primary throughout an 11-county region. The 1 percent sales tax is projected to generate about $637 million in revenue over 10 years, according to the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
Seventy-five percent of those funds would be used to pay for existing projects on the short-term list in the 11-county region. The remaining 25 percent would be divided up by local governments to decide how best to use the funds on transportation investments.
If it passes "and there is a fair chance it might, then we can go ahead and start planning on spending money on engineering on the Bass Road projects," Thomas said.
But Thomas and Macon-Bibb County Engineer David Fortson say it's not a simple process, and developers can't be held up for years until the funding — which would include federal, state and local money — and road planning has been completed.
But what can be done now is moving along.
"We have an engineering firm doing a concept study of a widening from Zebulon Road to Riverside Drive," Fortson said. "At some point, we will hold a public meeting on the plan."
Moreland Antobelli is doing the study and has been asked "to give us a plan for various segments and also give us a recommendation on phasing of it," he said. Once that is done, it would be presented to the Georgia Department of Transportation to update its plan for the widening project.
"We don't expect the whole thing to be done at one time," he said. "It could be built in pieces. ... I expect the priority will be from about Providence to about New Forsyth. Because we'll have to widen the interstate bridge, there are some ramps that will need to be improved coming off the interstate. ... That's where we expect most of the growth to occur."
If all the funding was lined up and everyone agreed on a plan, it would still be a long, tedious process to get the road widened.
"After we present the design concept to GDOT and programming was squared away, we would start preliminary design, surveying, locate utilities, determine rights of way needs, then do preliminary design, then do final design," Fortson said. "At some point, we would begin to acquire rights of way, ... plan for utilities to relocate ... (and) put it out for bids to get construction started.
"I think you are looking at probably four to five years to get started with construction. And construction, three years at least. And I'm just talking about New Forsyth (Road) to about Providence.
"It's complicated and not easy and there's a lot of money involved," he said. "And getting the money is a big part of the effort."
In the meantime, a mini-roundabout has been put in at the intersection of Bass and Arkwright roads and Riverside Drive, and Thomas said the county has been looking at putting a roundabout at Bass and New Forsyth Road, where there now is a four-way stop.