By Tia Lynn Ivey
Madison City residents left a public forum about downtown truck traffic frustrated last Thursday evening.
“What I am hearing is that you all can’t do anything about this,” said Rebecca Rakoczy, a Main Street resident.
Large trucks driving through downtown Madison has long been a point of contention with city residents who complain that passing trucks are noisy day and night, unsightly, damage the roadways, shake nearby houses, kick-up debris that dirties their homes, increase traffic and pose a safety concern for pedestrians.
Kathi Russell, owner of the Madison Tea Room and an historic home in town, spoke about the trucks diminishing the Historic District’s atmosphere.
“These trucks are coming through our Historic District, one of the most beautiful cities in the region, and ruining the very economy that these city employees have spent the last 15 to 20 years building for us,” said Russell.
Three representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) came to Thursday night’s forum to discuss the matter: Paul Tanner, state transportation data administrator, Jimmy Smith, district engineer, and Jamie Boswell, State Transportation board member for the 10th Congressional District.
Over 40 local residents attended the meeting. But the information they presented was not was attendees wanted to hear. According to the GDOT officials, outside of placing additional signage to encourage trucks to use the bypass instead of driving through downtown, there was nothing else they could do to legally prohibit trucks from driving through downtown.
“Trucks are allowed to use the state and federal road network without restriction,” said Tanner.
“We do not have the authority to stop them from driving through town.”
According to GDOT official, they can only enforce what the state legislature mandates, so their hands are tied when it comes to outlawing truck traffic downtown. The only way to legally prohibit truck traffic downtown would be to change the designation of downtown roads, which would require approval from the state legislature. According to Smith, that is a request that is unlikely to be approved.
“At this point, we can only encourage,” said Smith.
Councilman Joe DiLetto favored putting up signage in strategic location to alert truck drivers of alternative routes. “That seems like the easiest fix to me,” said DiLetto.
Others suggested utilizing GPS apps to guide truck drivers away from downtown and toward the bypass, but little was known about how to implement such an effort. Others wanted to direct trucks through Sandy Creek Road.
“I know the residents on Sandy Creek will want to come after me with a pellet gun,” said Jenny Newton. “But the number of citizenry that would be impacted would be quite minimal compared to the negative impact that is going on now in downtown Madison.”
Morgan County officials, who attended the meeting, objected to the Sandy Creek Road solution.
“Sandy Creek Road would need millions of dollars of updates that we cannot afford right now,” said County Planning Director Chuck Jarrell. “I wish it were as simple as putting up signage, but it’s not that simple.”
Madison City Planner Monica Callahan suggested increased signage and to direct local law enforcement to ramp up the speed limit enforcement in the historic district to deter trucks from driving through town.
“We are here to find viable solutions, but all of this really comes down to jurisdiction, said Tanner.
The Madison Mayor and City Council pledged to continue looking into the issue and researching ways to address downtown truck traffic, but no concrete solutions were decided upon during Thursday’s meeting.