WARNER ROBINS — Maj. Gen. Polly Peyer, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, told a group of community leaders Monday that traffic congestion coming into Robins Air Force Base is increasingly becoming a concern for base officials.
Peyer spoke during a four-hour Robins Regional Progress Report conference at the Museum of Aviation.
She recalled a long wait to enter the base after returning to the installation from an event last week.
“I was just amazed,” Peyer said. “Our folks face this every day.”
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The topic of traffic congestion figures to become an increasingly elevated concern in the coming weeks.
On Memorial Day, the base will close its Russell Parkway entrance, Gate 14, for two months of renovations. The base will launch similar construction projects on the Watson Boulevard and Green Street gates after the Russell Parkway gate project is complete, Peyer said.
The closures come just as the base hires hundreds of additional maintenance workers and welcomes a small Marine Corps Reserve unit, which officially will relocate to Robins on June 23. There will be more people, with fewer gates to come through.
Peyer noted the Defense Logistics Agency will soon bring 30 additional cargo trucks in and out of the base every day, adding to the roughly 100 trucks the DLA already sends into the installation daily.
The looming traffic challenge has pushed carpooling efforts by base and local officials to the forefront.
“It’s a lot easier to check 50 people’s IDs on a bus than 50 cars,” Peyer said.
Col. Carl Buhler, commander of the 78th Air Base Wing, is leading an ad-hoc group of base and local officials who are looking at ways to alleviate the traffic problems, Peyer said.
Mary Therese Tebbe, executive director of the 21st Century Partnership, touted efforts by the Atlanta-based Clean Air Campaign supporting carpooling into the base.
“Did you know you could get paid to not drive your car to work?” she asked, referring to a range of federal and state-funded grants for participating in carpooling programs.
The Clean Air Campaign offers up to $300 a month to support “vanpools” going into the base, among other incentives. More than $17,000 in the last two years have been handed to Robins commuters to support carpooling, said R. Kenyon Thweatt, a Clean Air Campaign program manager.
Clean air, encroachment challenges
Base and local officials also discussed clean air initiatives and real estate encroachment of the base during the conference.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, chairman of the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition, warned Houston County officials about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s tightening standards on pollution.
“We are going to have a very difficult challenge ahead of us,” he said.
The EPA intends to lower the bar this summer for ozone pollution levels permissible to avoid non-attainment status.
The EPA monitors levels of particulate, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxide and sulfur pollution, placing geographic areas with unacceptably high levels of each pollutant on their non-attainment lists.
If Houston County is placed on any of the EPA’s lists, it could torpedo efforts to bring additional flying missions to the base, Reichert said.
The EPA intends to install air pollution sensors in towns larger than 50,000 people, he added. With recent population growth, the 2010 census may show Warner Robins has exceeded that mark.
“You may get yourselves a Christmas present you don’t really want,” Reichert said.
Chip Cherry, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, said efforts to purchase properties north of Robins have continued apace. Cherry has led local efforts to purchase homes in the immediate area north of Robins.
Out of the total 255 properties in the area, Cherry said he could purchase all but six “if I had $7.8 million in my pocket right now.”
Six property owners in the area have indicated they are not willing to sell their properties, Cherry said.
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.