In the News

A Focus on Transportation " Article 6

This is the sixth in a series of articles about the visions developed for Early County during the recent charrette planning process held by Early County 2055. This week is part one of a look at transportation ideas that were developed.

The PlaceMakers' John M. Acken Jr. and Sr. developed a transportation study during the charette which provides insight into the area's transportation infrastructure. Their report includes 18 strategies for possible ways to utilize that infrastructure in the development of Early County's future.

The study begins with an overview of the region's transportation background.

The coming transportation shift
Transportation has always governed the built environment. Roman cities were planned around markets located on crossroads of the old Roman road network. Colonial cities in North America were first built at key ports which served as critical transfer points from ships to wagons. As development moved inland, cities such as Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Richmond, Va.; Raleigh, NC.; Columbia, SC.; Augusta and Columbus Ga. were built on fall lines - the farthest navigable point up stream where ships could transfer their goods to wagons. As the railroads developed, new cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham came to life at critical rail cross points. Developments around these transfer points are typically high density creating a unique sense of community and place.

The last 50 years has seen a dramatic change in the nature of transportation resulting in a radical change in the built environment. The abandoned warehouse districts of downtowns across the country are symbols of this shift in transportation. The transfer points which served as the seeds that sprouted the most loved cities became irrelevant as cheap energy made point to point truck shipments economical. Whereas the old cities which grew around these critical crossroads were highly dense and dependent on the transfer of goods, new development is typically spread out consuming vast acres of land. The era of cheap energy which allowed this type of sprawling development is, however, coming to a close. Although there will be spikes and drops, the long term trend is for energy prices to continue their upward climb. Energy prices have exceeded the high projections made as recently as two years ago.

Transportation which makes up approximately 74 percent of energy use will continue to be the most impacted sector as prices increase

Furthermore, as the U.S. becomes more reliant on foreign sources of energy, prices will become more susceptible to overseas instability further increasing the cost of oil to compensate for the added risk.

This rise in energy prices will produce a fundamental shift in transportation economics.

For the past fifty years during the era of cheap energy, rail transportation has been relegated to high volume shipments over long distances. Because energy prices were low, the efficiencies associated with rail compared to truck transportation could not cover the cost of transferring goods from rail to truck at the points of origin and destination. As energy prices increase, rail will become more competitive for shorter distances and smaller volumes. This shift in transportation mix will have substantial implications for the built environment in general and Early County in particular.

Freight transportation: As rail becomes more economical for shorter distances and reduced volumes, a greater volume of traffic will move through the transfer points between truck and rail. The only brake on the increased rail volume is the lack of current rail capacity. The issue of capacity is, however, a short term problem given the comparative low cost of building railroads compared to roads. Therefore, the next 10 to 15 years should see substantial development around these new rail/truck freight transfer points. Because Early County is served by two class I railroads, an independent carrier, and a state owned railroad line, it is uniquely situated to take advantage of this coming shift to rail transportation.

Passenger transportation: The same efficiencies associated with moving goods by rail and transferring at points of origin and destination also apply to the movement of people. The popularity of transit oriented development is the first harbinger of this shift. As energy prices increase and the baby boom generation retires, the population will gravitate to the south with its temperate weather, and concentrate in larger cities. Recent demographic trends already point to this shift in the population.

Unlike freight transportation which only requires increased capacity, passenger rail traffic will be slow to increase due to substantial capital requirements. Therefore, the shift to more rail passenger service will lag behind freight shipments and not be realized for another fifteen to thirty years. The State of Georgia is already anticipating a shift in transportation and has planned multiple future rail passenger routes. It is also purchasing hundreds of miles of abandoned track. This report will explain how investment in transportation infrastructure will have a profound impact on the development of Early County in the 21st Century.

Goals of the Transportation Plan: Improve the quality of life of the residents of Early County: Too often communities are faced with the false choice of no development or low density sprawling development which taxes a community's infrastructure, is dependent on the automobile, and dilutes and ultimately destroys sense of community. One of the principle goals of this plan is to stimulate growth, encourage new jobs, attract business and improve the overall quality of life of the residents of Early County without sacrificing its close knit sense of community.

Preserve rural heritage: One of Early County's principle assets is its rural heritage. Throughout the public input sessions, many of Early County's residents expressed a desire to maintain the peaceful rural lifestyle which currently exists. With a balanced mix of transportation options implemented through the twenty recommendations outlined below, Early County can maintain its rural heritage while improving the quality of life of its citizens.

To read the article online, click here.