Posted on: July 21, 2023
Moving Gwinnett Forward: Why The County And Gwinnett Place CID Are Prioritizing Mobility
Georgia’s Gwinnett County may have a famously inactive shopping mall at its center, but the county located a short drive from Atlanta is hardly standing still. Home to nearly 1 million people, Gwinnett is the fastest-growing county in Metro Atlanta.
With its population rising, the county’s transportation network is a high priority for local officials and residents as they press forward with an ambitious plan to turn the old Gwinnett Place Mall site into a multi-use development with an emphasis on much-needed housing for current and future residents.
That project will add to vehicle traffic in the county and, already, an estimated 65,000 vehicles each day travel Pleasant Hill Road, a major traffic artery that passes by the old mall. Those motorists include work commuters, customers of auxiliary shopping areas around Gwinnett Place or drivers who want to access I-85, a major interstate that serves the Southeast and acts as the primary connector between Atlanta and Greenville, South Carolina.
“When you’re just driving through on Pleasant Hill Road, you wouldn’t even think the mall is dead because there’s so much traffic and there are so many retail businesses fronting local roads,” said Curt Thompson, a member of the Georgia State Transportation Board and a former state senator for the area.
Thompson, who drives the county’s roads daily and whose law office is in view of the old mall, said this dichotomy between a bustling and growing county and a mostly abandoned mall has resulted in an ironic challenge that the county needs to solve.
“Pleasant Hill Road is over capacity, even with the mall being mostly dead,” he said.
To address the capacity and safety needs of Pleasant Hill Road, as well as other popular local streets and intersections, Gwinnett County commissioners in June approved the allocation of nearly $760M in local tax revenue to fund infrastructure projects.
More than 70% of revenues from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax — known as SPLOST — are dedicated to improving mobility in the county. The proposed improvements would impact major roads and intersections, bridges, pedestrian safety, resurfacing, unpaved roads, speed control in residential areas and school safety. The work will range from restriping traffic lanes to widening roads and replacing some bridges.
The SPLOST improvements are based on the recommendations of the county’s 15-member Citizens Project Selection Committee, on which Thompson has served as a member.
Thompson, a lifelong county resident who worked at Gwinnett Place Mall in his teens, said it is important to include a wide range of opinions as the county maps its future.
“There is a lot of diversity at the table with a committee makeup that looks like the population of Gwinnett County,” he said. “This does a lot towards gaining more public buy-in for these projects.”
Gwinnett County is one of the most diverse in the nation, with more than 100 languages or dialects spoken by its residents, he noted.
“Making sure that the community is welcoming is important to me, and an important part of that is a good transportation and transit system,” Thompson said. “I also don’t see how our business community stays vibrant without us also having a comprehensive mobility plan.”
Thompson is an advocate for improved mass transit options in addition to road improvements; however, the tax funding approved by the board earlier this summer focuses on projects to improve transportation for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. A major study released last year by the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District concluded that those would be the predominant modes of transportation for Gwinnett Place-area residents and visitors “for some time to come.”
Other funding sources are spurring delivery of new transit services for the area. This fall, Ride Gwinnett will begin a new local bus route from the Gwinnett Place Transit Center to the Amazon distribution center in Stone Mountain. Also, with support from the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District, the county was awarded $20M in grant funds to transform the Gwinnett Place Transit Center into a multimodal hub that will connect multiple bus routes to a future bus rapid transit corridor.
“Thank goodness for the SPLOST funding mechanism, which dates back to the late 1980s and has given the county the resources to be able to respond to our enormous growth,” said Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place CID, which is pushing for the revitalization strategy for the mall site. “It has allowed the county to move forward on projects that would never have happened if we were dependent on normal property taxes. This includes not only roads, but fire stations, libraries, parks and other things where the funding would have been very limited.”
In addition to improvements to Pleasant Hill Road, other transportation projects proposed under SPLOST would address traffic flow on or toward Satellite Boulevard, I-85 and other important corridors and intersections around the mall site, Allen said. Additional high-priority projects seek to improve walkability in the Gwinnett Place area through the addition of new trails and pedestrian bridges over busy streets.
Allen said resident participation via the CPSC has been vital in setting the county’s transportation priorities, just as resident input was a key part of producing the mixed-use Global Villages strategy to replace the old mall.
“The process of selecting all these transportation projects was citizen-led, and whether we like it or not, the automobile is still going to be king for a long time,” Allen said. “Those improvements are going to be key to improving accessibility, and we want people to be able to get in, get out and get along easier, but most of those trips will still be made via cars.”
This article was produced in collaboration between Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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