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“It’s the number one thing we hear all the time” : Dawson County committee tackles traffic topics
Long Range Planning Committee 2023
Director of Economic Development Kevin Herrit, right, speaks during the Long Range Planning Committee’s Feb. 22 conversation on a proposed transportation study. From left, BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond, LRPC members Emily Bagwell and Jane Graves and Herrit. - photo by Julia Hansen

During their latest meeting, Dawson County’s Long Range Planning Committee honed in on next steps for finding solutions to area traffic woes.

And, as attendee and Board of Commissioners chairman Billy Thurmond noted, transportation solutions have been top of mind for many local residents. 

“It’s the number one thing we hear all the time, about the roads and stuff like that,” Thurmond said at the Feb. 22 meeting.

This story continues below.

Through discussions at their monthly meetings, the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) recommends long-term infrastructure and land use policy options to the county. For example, the committee recommended a sunset clause this past fall. 

The LRPC holds meetings the last Wednesday of every month starting at 11 a.m. in the second-floor Administrative Training Room of the Dawson County Government Center. 

Transportation study

Throughout 2022, the LRPC has discussed the merits of a county-wide transportation study. 

During the Feb. 22 meeting, committee member Emily Bagwell mentioned officials with the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority and Dawson County Chamber of Commerce being on board with such a study. 

Director of Economic Development Kevin Herrit, who works with the Development Authority of Dawson County, confirmed those sentiments and pointed to the necessity for more conversations with the Georgia Department of Transportation “to see what their plans are and what they’re going through.”

GDOT could also help with funding such as grants for a study, Herrit added. 

“Would it make sense to invite GDOT to come into the community and share? They’ve done that in other communities,” Bagwell said. 

“Any time there’s a traffic study, you’ve got to engage [G]DOT,” Thurmond said. 

GDOT typically plans out state routes on a 30-year timeline, the BOC chairman added.

The rapid growth in Dawson and surrounding counties isn’t the only challenge to consider. Committee member Cal Miller emphasized the importance of a “realistic budget,” given the range of infrastructure improvements that may be in mind.

Thurmond later elaborated that any funds from GDOT plus additional local money can move projects up the state agency’s priority list, making “25-year projects five-year projects instead.”

“The last time we talked to them, I said, ‘We need to have the roadway before we have all this built and then we have to buy all this stuff and change everything’,” Thurmond said. 

He added that “engaging early and often” would be key when getting GDOT’s help with transportation projects. 

Bagwell and Herrit agreed to research funding sources and what a future study would look like based on past studies done for counties similar to Dawson County. 

Then, a presentation requesting the transportation study and bids could be developed by other public officials. 

Thurmond also personally advocated for a one-penny transportation special purpose local option sales tax (TSPLOST) as a funding pot for road fixes.

“Everybody in this room knows that that–transportation– is also the most expensive thing to try to fix,” Thurmond told the committee. 

Specifically, he said the measure could be considered for a November 2023 vote if a referendum is approved by the Board of Elections and Registration to put it on the ballot. 

Previously in June 2020, Dawson County voters rejected a TSPLOST referendum. 

“That was right about the time when things weren't going as well financially for a lot of people, so I think that had a lot to do with it,” Thurmond said. 

The chairman also thought putting dirt roads on the TSPLOST projects list could make the penny tax more appealing. He added that this kind of revenue would help repair roads, which can cost at least several hundred-thousand dollars per mile to fix.

As an example, initial estimates to fix just Elliott Road, a mile-long road near Lake Lanier, were almost $2 million, so the county looked at cheaper options to address pothole and shoulder grade repairs.

Multiple county roads are in poorer condition and require measures like full-depth reclamation to last for at least 15 years. Patching or putting a proverbial band-aid on routes may only help for a couple years, Thurmond said.

“Since we’ve had some talk about a transportation study and what that's supposed to accomplish, that might be a good thing to try to get out way before November,” LRPC member Jane Graves said in terms of a study helping with a TSPLOST vote. 

What’s next 

The LRPC also acknowledged Dawson County’s recent work on forthcoming land use and property-related ordinance changes.

Work on those measures, along with a pending impact fee study, have led the Board of Commissioners to extend the county moratorium on residential zoning applications. 

The proposed changes to the Land Use Resolution cover stream buffers, allowed home structures, lot widths and mixed-use regulations, among numerous other tweaks and changes.

Suggested additions include a sunset clause proposed by the Long Range Planning Committee last fall. If passed, it would prevent vacant tracts of land from sitting undeveloped for an extended period of time.

After previously tabling a decision, the BOC will hear the land use changes again during their March 2 voting session. That meeting will begin directly after the BOC’s 4 p.m. work session.

Thurmond also updated the committee on the forthcoming property maintenance and related ordinances, noting the county’s intent to stay within the areas of public health, public safety, environmental or property devaluation when continuing to draft the rules. 

He also mentioned that the county is considering “how to help people that don’t have the ability either physically or financially” to remove any potential ordinance violations. 

Those property-related proposals will also be heard on May 18, during the same voting session as the moratorium. 

Dawson County’s Future Land Use Map is also on the horizon, with Thurmond asking the LRPC 

to also focus on that going forward this year. 

The request comes as the county wants “to make sure things that have been approved are on the map, and it’s as up to date as it possibly can be,” Thurmond said. 

The map, along with the rest of the county’s comprehensive plan, must be updated every five years. The last full-scale update was in 2018.

Citizen involvement

Upcoming BOC land votes

March 2

  • Proposed changes to Dawson County’s Land Use Resolution

May 18

  • Proposed changes to Dawson County property maintenance, litter control and solid waste management ordinances 
  • Proposed extension to the existing moratorium on residential rezoning applications

Meetings location

  • Second-floor assembly room, Dawson County Government Center; address is 25 Justice Way in Dawsonville.  

Graves also reiterated the committee’s goal of engaging with more members of the public during the Feb. 22 meeting. 

“Stay engaged as we go through the process before it becomes a back-door issue, because that’s when you get the most people there [at BOC meetings],” Thurmond said. “Getting them engaged before that is the hard part.” 

Both Graves and Thurmond pointed out that having information on the county’s website and Facebook and YouTube pages have helped. 

Graves also pointed out the role that DCN can serve in helping educate citizens about what the committee does and how to get involved. 

Now, Thurmond pinpointed another area of focus, to do “a better job of explaining the process and how things work and what people need to do to be a part of the process.” 

Graves also highlighted getting more people to rotate on and off the committee, including recruiting a large landowner or person with agricultural property.

Thurmond said that would entail putting a candidate’s name forward and inviting that person to an LRPC meeting before sending the BOC a vote to add another member to the LRPC.

“We got a job for you if you’re interested,” Thurmond added. “If you want to be a part…we can give you a job.”

The folks that have worked on these committees…some of them have done a fantastic job,” said Graves, “and they do it on a volunteer basis.”