The regional concept was developed primarily as a way to cluster counties together to provide top notch state-level services, but it has not focused so much on regional services in individual counties or among clusters of cities. However, the New Jersey regional plan conceived the idea that maybe some counties should function more like states in regards to how they work with cities and towns. In truth the best ideas are likely to begin as movements in urban areas of cities since the population and resources are available in those places to try new things as well as the clout available to push the state government to alter their current approach.
Usually the regional concepts being presented involve one of two things:
- The combination of counties into multi-county regions
- An expanded role by the state.
The plan presented here adopts the regional concept, but with application on a single county level that potentially clusters in bordering cities. Adopting a regional plan on a county level is a good first step, but most likely to be beneficial when the county already has a high population. In fact, the Regional Roads Plan does allow for single-county road maintenance districts as long as the county population is at least 300,000 residents. At present, Fulton County is nearing 1,000,000 residents making it more than eligible for not just a regional road district, but also a metropolitan road district. Although the concept that will be presented here is for a single county in Georgia, the hope is that it will not only correct road jurisdictional issues within the county but also that the new laws it will create will lead to far-reaching reforms across the state. Annexation by cities should not necessarily mean that all county-level municipal services are instantly eliminated.
While some county roads are local in nature in these two states, the vast majority follow roadways designated arterial and collector. Townships, boroughs, cities, towns and villages maintain the rest. In Fulton County, however, these roads are maintained solely by the cities within: no exceptions. In no way is this an efficient means to operate a road system and it means both widely varying standards and a lack of regional coordination for roads of regional importance. Such a situation like what is found in the Northeast could also be introduced in Fulton County even though these cities are not technically townships. Nevertheless, the idea is just the same. What this basically means is that
- Peachtree Corners (Gwinnett County)
- Duluth (Gwinnett County)
- Berkeley Lake (Gwinnett County)
- Norcross (Gwinnett County - borders Peachtree Corners)
- Brookhaven (DeKalb)
- Dunwoody (DeKalb)
- Smyrna (Cobb)
- Forest Park (Clayton)
- Tyrone (Fayette)
The combination of these cities would add nearly 270,000 residents to the tax base needed to operate regional traffic control while keeping the focus primarily on Fulton County. Further expansion beyond this will necessarily include participation by either other bordering cities or the counties themselves. This will strengthen the capabilities of these cities, three of those recently created, and allow municipalities across the Atlanta area to again enjoy county-level standards for road maintenance similar to what Cobb County currently enjoys.
If this initial effort is successful, the next step to take is to see if resources can be pooled to place certain roads across Fulton County under sole control of a cooperative. This would not negate traffic control, but it would expand the responsibility for most arterial and collector roads to a regional network: at least across the county. Perhaps even City of Atlanta would be interested in participating in such a system, and a regional system across the county would mean efficient and high standard maintenance of major roads at less cost. This means that roadways that are designated collector and arterial should necessarily transfer from control of the individual cities back to the county while the remaining local streets can remain (mostly) under control of the individual cities. In addition,
In addition, state law mandates that all cities provide at least three essential services. At present a city contracting with any county for any service eliminates one major service. If the county and city are splitting that responsibility, then the city is still providing that service and thus is not in danger of losing its charter. Likewise, other counties who have portions of the county pursuing more localized control through new cities or city annexation do not jeopardize county services the way they do today. The overlaying of services also allows the cities to work with the county instead of independent of the county.
- State-owned surface state routes (routine maintenance, state continues to own the road)
- City-owned arterial roads
- City-owned major collector roads
- City-owned minor collector roads
- Maintenance agreements for routine county maintenance on city-owned local streets. This can range from traffic control agreements and/or shared traffic engineering agreements in the larger cities to routine county maintenance of city streets in the lowest population cities and towns.
- Arterial and collector roads through historic and/or central business districts of cities (e.g. maintenance/ownership gaps should be permitted through the CBD such as downtown Atlanta or downtown Roswell). These roads usually have city development standards that are likely to clash with county standards. The exact mileage of these areas is impossible to determine, but are likely to be quite low.
- City-owned functionally local streets
- Interstates and expressways under state control.
- County or city-owned freeways and expressways would definitely be included in the countywide regional system although none exist in Fulton County
- 502.42 miles (12.0%) of the Fulton County total road mileage is federal-aid eligible
- 906.31 miles (21.6%) of the Fulton County total road mileage is designated arterial or collector with non-federal-aid minor collectors taking up the largest chunk
- Combined with surface state road maintenance, the Fulton County responsibility would climb to 1178.83 miles or 28.1% of the total county road inventory (excluding other jurisdictions)
- A total of 4190.09 miles of roadway are in Fulton County.
- If the entire county is incorporated, according to this plan at least 2,606.41 miles (62.2%) of functionally local city streets would remain primary or sole responsibility of the cities.
This chart shows the breakdown of the proposed county highway system treating remaining county roads as "city streets" due to missing data showing the breakdown of functional classification among the county system.
Compare this to the actual breakdown of roadway responsibilities throughout the county. In the situation that the county lost control of its remaining unincorporated areas, but took over responsibility of major thoroughfares, the net increase of county responsibility would climb from the
- In the first instance, the county is maintaining 21.6% of the roads but in lane miles they are responsible for slightly less at 20.4%. This means that the
countycooperative keeps back 20.4% of the overall taxes including those divided among the cities for those roads usually through the sales tax. Thus, if a 1 cent sales tax nets $50,000,000 budgeted for roads per year (guesstimate) the countycooperative can keep back $10,200,000 to construct and maintain county roads.
- In the second example, cities are required to "pay back" the
countycooperative on a rate-per-mile basis. Let us assume that Fulton Countythe regional cooperative requires $10,000 per lane mile for county maintenance on city streets. As an example, the City of Roswell is used. The city has 500 lane miles and 100 of those are maintained by the countywide cooperative. Thus, the city will be required to pay back the county $100,000 for those 100 lane miles. The second method is easier to understand and less likely to be misunderstood or abused by either party.
Currently cities are obligated to provide state highway maintenance within cities. If this responsibility transfers to a larger region, it does in effect break that contract. However, the region will also be taking major road responsibility from the cities and will be able to much more efficiently provide state highway maintenance than a city can. This means that if any county in Georgia is providing state highway maintenance it supplants any and all city maintenance contracts on state-owned roads.
If pursued, maintenance of state highways by counties should be population-limited to see if it works. Initially the population floor should be 500,000 allowing only the largest four counties, all in the Atlanta area, to pursue this option. If the plan is broadly adopted and successful, the program can be expanded each year to lower tiers on a trial basis: the next tier would be counties over 200,000 then counties over 150,000 and finally those counties over 100,000 residents. It is generally assumed that any further consolidation for this purpose remains above 50,000 residents due to greatly diminishing returns for lower population areas. Below 50,000 residents GDOT should pursue the opposite approach for remaining counties across the state expanding partial or full state maintenance of county routes in lower population counties possibly through service swapping.