Whitfield County commissioners seek freight transportation plan, aim to stay ahead of truck traffic

It seems like there is more truck traffic on Whitfield County roads and highways and on I-75 each day, said members of the county Board of Commissioners. And on Tuesday they took action to try to get an accurate count of those trucks and to develop a plan to deal with the growth of freight traffic in the region.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to allow the Greater Dalton Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to issue a request for proposals to create a regional freight network plan, which will include trains. Board Chairman Jevin Jensen typically votes only if there is a tie.

The MPO handles transportation planning for Whitfield and Murray counties. It was created in 2003 after the U.S. Census Bureau designated the Greater Dalton area, Whitfield and Murray counties, as an urban area.

The MPO plans to award a contract for the plan by the end of May. It estimates the cost will be no more than $200,000. The Federal Highway Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation will pay 80% of the cost of the study. Whitfield and Murray counties will pay the remaining 20%. The proposal said awarding the contract is contingent on receiving the expected money from the state and federal governments.

"We have seen the increase of trucks on our roads and interstate in recent years," said Jensen. "The inland port in Murray County has only added to this traffic. The MPO does long-term planning and this grant will help us develop strategies to get ahead of these increasing volumes of freight from trucks and trains.

"Whitfield County and Dalton are train towns, but recently we are seeing more and more complaints about trains blocking road access and other issues. We hope to see what options are available to remediate these issues with this grant."

At Tuesday's meeting several people who live on East Fields Road complained about trains blocking the only road leading to their homes for hours at a time.

"The kids get detention for being late for school," said Johnny Dyer. "It's not their fault. It's the trains' fault."

He mentioned he had a fire once at his house. He said he was fortunately able to put it out because a train was blocking the road and a fire truck couldn't get there.

"We are going to have a medical emergency and nobody's going to come in to help us," he said.

Jensen said he will ask County Attorney Robert Smalley to see if there's some way to fine the railroads if they block roads for a long period of time but warned railroads have legal powers dating back to the 1800s that often outweigh those of local governments.

The Appalachian Regional Port opened in August 2018 on 42 acres of land off of Highway 411 North just south of Crandall in Murray County. The port, 388 miles by rail from Savannah, serves as a distribution and intake point for businesses in North Georgia, Northeast Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee and helps move cargo to and from the Port of Savannah, the fourth busiest port in the United States.

The inland port is operated by the Georgia Ports Authority. Rail service to the port is controlled by CSX. Commissioners said since the port has opened they've been receiving more calls about truck traffic.

"I get a lot of complaints about trucks, truck traffic," said Commissioner Greg Jones. "There is a lot of truck traffic on Highway 2. And it's going to get worse. You'd think the state would have made it a four-lane before they opened the port, but you've got this two-lane scenic road handling an increasing amount of truck traffic."

Highway 2 runs from northern Murray County to northern Whitfield County and links the Appalachian Regional Port to Cleveland Highway, Highway 41 and I-75.

Highway 2 makes up part of the Cohutta–Chattahoochee Scenic Byway. Historic Prater's Mill, Beaverdale Elementary School and Varnell Elementary School are on Highway 2, and Coahulla Creek High School is near the highway.

"I live off of Cleveland Highway and the truck traffic is increasing there, too," said Commissioner John Thomas.

The commissioners said they need to get solid numbers on the amount of truck traffic and begin to plan for its growth.

"We need to be out in front of this," said Commissioner Robby Staten. "We can't afford to keep playing catch-up."

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