By Maria Saporta
Although Gwinnett County is planning to remove its signature water towers along I-85 proclaiming that “Gwinnett is Great,” the county continues to anticipate strong growth for the next 20 years.
Economist Roger Tutterow of Mercer University participated in Gwinnett’s first annual “Transportation Summit” on Wednesday at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s headquarters.
By 2030, Tutterow said that Gwinnett will have more than one million residents, which means it would have a larger population that 15 states in the nation.
“Growth in the future may not look like the growth in the past,” Tutterow said. Instead of its former role as a bedroom community to Atlanta, Tutterow said that there will be more job creation in the county, which means that more people will live and work in Gwinnett.
That is good news. One of the best cures for congestion and sustainable development is to have people live close to where they work.
But one of Gwinnett’s challenges is that the county is highly dependent on the automobile to go from point A to point B. And traditionally, Gwinnett has been highly decentralized, which is difficult to serve with transit.
Todd Long, the new director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation, acknowledged that the ability to build more highway lanes financially and politically is limited.
There appears to be a growing appreciation in the county, demonstrated by its involvement in the Atlanta region’s Transit Implementation Board’s Concept 3 plan, to rely more on public transit to be part of the solution.
Although Long did not mention Concept 3 in his talk to the group, after the meeting he said that had been an oversight. His team is working on a statewide transportation plan to be completed by the end of the year, and Long said the department couldn’t start from scratch. It will use existing plans, such as the regional transit plan, as a foundation for its efforts.
The availability of water is even more critical to Gwinnett’s growth. The county depends on Lake Lanier for its water supply, but a federal judge’s ruling last week could prohibit using the lake’s water as early as three years from now. Not only would that halt any future growth. It would jeopardize the livelihood of the county’s existing homes and businesses.
Although upbeat about Gwinnett’s future, Tutterow did sound a warning signal. Highly compensated jobs will go to places with the best quality of life. If metro Atlanta does not improve its prospects for water supply and transportation, its reputation for a good quality of life will be destroyed.
“Long-term thinking and short-term action is absolutely crucial,” Tutterow said.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to keep those “Gwinnett is Great” water towers up a bit longer.