SPECIAL REPORT: Growing pains in the CSRA

EVANS, GA (WJBF) – Tuesday night the Columbia County School Board is expected to take up the controversial topic of rezoning as part of an overall plan to deal with the growth expected from the arrival of Cyber Command at Fort Gordon. Initial estimates from the Fort say that up to 100,000 people are expected to move to our area over the next five years, with the majority expected to settle in Columbia County.

As part of my NewsChannel 6 Special Report I sat down with county leaders to see what they are doing now to prepare for a possible population explosion.

“It’s terrible”

That’s the reaction I got from a commuter waiting in traffic at the intersection of Bobby Jones Expressway and Washington Road, Columbia County’s busiest.

“Every day we get complaints about the traffic,” said Lt. Brad Powell with Grovetown Public Safety.

And if you add 10,000 to 100,000 more people to the mix….

“Will it be painful getting there? Probably at times.” said Columbia County Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell.

“The exact number that will be living in our area is hard to pinpoint,” said Columbia County School Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway.

If the number does approach 100,000 it would be like dumping the contents of a full Sanford Stadium right into the middle of Columbia County.

“It’s looking into a crystal ball and it’s difficult at times especially when we’ve got so much pressure in the existing growth going on right now under our eyes,” said Cassell.

It’s Cassell’s job to make sure your five minute wait at any given light doesn’t become a 15-minute wait in 2020, and he has a plan.

“With the Riverwatch expansion and once that comes online at least we’ll have an alternative route,” said Cassell. “That used to be the mouth of the funnel at one point. You wanted to get somewhere you had to get through that intersection. So having a roadway that pretty much goes from Evans to downtown Augusta to provide some relief to that. The hope is with Fury’s Ferry widening, the Riverwatch expansion, the Lewiston Road widening is to get people to use alternate routes and get some relief the old fashioned way.”

And you may soon need a new route to get your kids to school.

“Even though you’re expecting growth you don’t know how big it’s going to be,” said Dr. Carraway.

Dr. Carraway is about to present a plan to board members to deal with the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of new students headed to the county.

“If we continue to grow at this rate, again we’ll be able to manage that growth fairly well, causing a little bit of discomfort though because we will have to rezone some of our schools that are less populated,” Carraway said. “We’ll need to move some of the population into those schools so that our overcrowded schools can continue to service the areas that they do.”

Baker Place Elementary, Cedar Ridge Elementary, Columbia Middle and Grovetown High are on that list. Dr. Carraway says school leaders will also soon begin looking for a location for a new high school.

“We invite the public to come out and listen so they can hear the challenges we face and what we’re doing to try to meet those challenges in a positive way.”

And that seems to be the theme: It may get worse before it gets better…but it will get better.

“The good news is that wherever your children attend, our schools are great,” Carraway said.

“I think the city is planning for the growth, it’s just a slow process,” added Lt. Powell.

“There’s some exciting stuff going on but it’s going to mean a lot of orange barrels in the near future and a lot of pain to get there,” said Cassell. “But I think as citizens start to see these things improving and start to see these things progressing, I think that they’ll see we’re being very smart with their money.”

Both Cassell and Dr. Carraway say if you have any question or concern to not hesitate to give their office a call:

Click here for the Columbia County Board of Education and here for Traffic Services.

The initial rezoning recommendation for Columbia County schools will be presented at the school board meeting Tuesday night after which there will be a series of public hearings to get input from residents.

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