By Tia Lynn Ivey
A push for a moratorium on all new developments in the City of Madison did not fly with city council members at Monday night’s regular meeting.
Celia Murray, president of the Historic Madison Coalition (HMC), a non-profit organization founded to protect Madison’s Historic District, made an impassioned plea to the city council to take an “extreme” action to thwart increasing traffic flow through the city by instituting a moratorium on all new developments.
“A moratorium on development may be necessary. It may seem extreme, but it may be the only way the historic district can retain its small town character,” said Murray to the Madison Mayor and City Council Monday evening.
Murray argued that the current volume of traffic coming through Downtown Madison, especially the Historic District, is already too much and will only get worse in coming year. Citing the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Thoroughfare Plan, crafted in 2007 by transportation specialist analyzing Madison’s traffic circumstances, Murray emphasized the projected traffic growth estimates as an unacceptable threat to city’s historic district and implored the council to treat the problem as a “critical need.” She warned that “uncontrolled growth” would erode the very qualities that make Madison a draw for tourism. Murray noted that currently 16,000 cars come through Madison per day and that number is projected to jump to 27,000 per day in the next 10 years.
“That spells disaster for the historic district and the city as a whole,” said Murray. “And as goes the historic district so goes the city…Madison’s infrastructure, in terms of roads and streets, is insufficient to accommodate new growth,” said Murray. “The bottom line is a moratorium may be the only way to preserve Madison’s small town character and preserving that character is the only way to ensure the survival of the historic district as the priceless jewel we all know it to be.”
While city officials acknowledged the complexities of Madison’s traffic problem, including volume, truck traffic, speeding, and limited connectivity, no one seemed open to implementing a moratorium on new developments.
“A moratorium on development will not work,” said City Manager David Nunn. “If you had a moratorium from now until 2030, traffic numbers are still going to be increased. A moratorium will not solve the traffic issues in the City of Madison.”
“With all due respect to Ms. Murray, zero growth towns do not do well,” said Councilman Eric Joyce. “They do not to well in the short-term, they do not do well in the long-term, and especially if you don’t have the same rules applying to the county surrounding you. In my opinion, we would be biting off our nose to spite our face.”
The council discussed other methods to reduce traffic rates through Downtown Madison and the Historic District, including strict enforcement of the speed limit on Main Street to dissuade motorists from driving through downtown and to instead, use the bypass—especially trucks.
“If we can disincentivize some drivers from coming through town, I am fine with that, I really am,” said Joyce.
However, Nunn warned that issuing citations to drivers going just a couple miles over the speed limit would be seen as “draconian” and could give Madison a bad reputation as a speed trap.
“Word gets out if we become draconian with this,” warned Nunn.
Councilwoman Carrie Peters-Reid and Mayor Fred Perriman were concerned such strict enforcement and other efforts to redirect traffic to the bypass could hurt tourism.
“We just said the economic driver in the City of Madison is tourism,” reminded Reid. “So we want them in town or we don’t want them in town? Tourism is the number economic driver, but now we have an issue with people coming through town to see the beautiful town that we have?”
“Most people come through Madison to see the historic district, are we going to encourage them not to come through Madison?” asked Perriman.
“We want the tourism because that is the economic engine of our city, but maybe we don’t need to add more local traffic at this particular juncture,” responded Murray, turning the discussion back to a development moratorium.
Councilman Joe DiLetto suggested working with county and state leaders to speed up the planned project to connect Highway 83 to the Madison Bypass via Lions Club Road. That project isn’t slated to begin until 2034 and is estimated to cost $2 million.
“I think there is a way this project could be sped up,” said DiLetto, who noted it would take massive cooperation between city, county and state leaders to accomplish.
Joyce suggested using new revenue from the Transportation Special Project Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) toward the bypass connection project or funding a new traffic study to better assess how to solve Madison’s complex traffic issues.
“We have some new money with the transportation SPLOST to start implementing things suggested in the study or commission a new study,” said Joyce.
The council did not take any action on the traffic issue, but pledged to further research the issue and work on a multifaceted approach to improving the city’s traffic conditions. However, Perriman warned that traffic problems have long plagued the city and will most likely continue to do so.
“I think every council member who has served on this council had the idea they could come on this council and solve the traffic problem,” said Perriman. “The next council member that is going to come on will not be able to solve the traffic problem. It’s an ongoing thing. We try, this council has tried the council before us have tried, and we are still int he same predicament but we can still keep trying. And with that, this council meeting is adjourned.”