Gridlock galvanizes Rockdale County

Sometimes when Rockdale County residents shop in another county, it’s just to avoid the local traffic.

I-20 bisects the county, but getting to it can be a battle. The county’s wish list for the 2012 transportation referendum includes alleviating traffic congestion near Ga. 138 and the I-20 interchange, a source of frustration for residents and shoppers.

When you mention improving transportation in Rockdale County and Conyers, residents say they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make things better.

But as the smallest of the 10 counties in the region, Rockdale County could have the least influence in whether the referendum is approved.

Its registered voters make up just 2.2 percent of the 10-county region, less than any other county. There’s a stopgap in place, however, with the regional roundtable, which will craft the final project list. Each county, no matter the size, gets two votes (except Fulton, where the Atlanta mayor also gets a vote). So Rockdale with 49,266 voters gets two votes on the roundtable, just like Gwinnett with 386,419 voters.

But to sell the list to the region, the roundtable doesn’t really have to sell it to Rockdale County. Like other counties, Rockdale will have to live with whatever 51 percent of the region’s voters decide.

Roundtable leaders insist that all counties will be treated fairly.

In any case, transportation needs span county borders. Despite the size of Rockdale County, which touches the eastern borders of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, traffic headaches motivate its residents, too.

“We’re a commuter county,” said Randy Mills, mayor of Conyers and a member of the regional roundtable. “Besides public safety, when you ask people out here what is important, they’ll say transportation.”

Mills noted that at least two-thirds of Rockdale residents commute to work outside the county every day.

And Mills, who is confident some projects from the county’s wish list will make the final cut, said the passage of a special-purpose local-option sales tax in July, with 57 percent of the vote, won’t affect residents’ willingness to vote for this one.

Shemaiah Lawrence, 24, who lives and works in the area around Ga. 138 and I-20, said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, traffic is a 15 out here. I live about 5 minutes away, but it takes me 15 to 20 minutes to get to work because of the traffic situation.”

She knows there is a chance her traffic headache might not get picked, but she’s willing to roll the dice.

Miguel Valentin, the county transportation director, said the county wants to build a bridge over I-20 that will help get people from the north side of Ga. 138 to the south side.

The shopping area, which is home to a number of big-box stores including a Walmart, can become congested every day.

“And if there is something going on at the Georgia International Horse Park, that really is a mess,” said Karlton McIver, 52, who lives in the county.

Not all of the projects are about roads. The “East Corridor High Capacity Rail Service” is an extension of a request proposed by MARTA that could whisk commuters out of DeKalb County from Stonecrest Mall, along I-20 out to Sigman Road, an arc on the north side of Rockdale County. The Atlanta Regional Commission estimates the line could cost more than $2 billion.

One wish list project would create a bypass out of Sigman Road, Valentin said. The project will include widening the road where it is not already four lanes and extending it a bit. The goal is to help with traffic trying to go to I-20, he said.

“I can’t think of an area [Ga. 138/I-20] I try to avoid more,” said Brittany Gordon, 25, who works in the area. “When we need to go to Walmart, we go to the one in Covington just to avoid the traffic, even though this one is closer.”

But if the projects around Ga. 138 don’t make the final list, some residents will be unhappy.

“I don’t mind paying more taxes for something that is going to help with this traffic problem,” said Eugenia Joyner, 31. “But if they’re not going to do it, I don’t think I’d be as excited about paying more.”


Rockdale County

  • Incorporated: Oct. 18, 1870
  • Population: 85,215
  • Total area: 51.48 square miles
  • County seat: Conyers
  • Interstate lanes: 51.48 miles

Projects to watch

  • South River Multiuse Trail phase 3, from Rockdale Community Park to Ga. 138, $1.1 million
  • Sigman Road corridor street widening and improvements , from Lester Road to the Dogwood Connector, $40 million
  • Sigman Road Extension and Hayden Quarry Road extension and realigning from the DeKalb County line to I-20 East, $16 million
  • I-20 East overpass and realign-ment of Commerce Crossing from Old Salem Road to Old Covington Highway, $22.6 million
  • Old Covington Highway, widening and reconnecting from Green Street to east of Ga. 20 and Ga. 138, $4.9 million
  • Ga. 162 (Salem Road) widening from Flat Shoals Road in Rockdale County to Old Salem Road in Newton County, $43 million
  • Parker Road phase 3A of widening from Millers Chapel Road to Flat Shoals Road, $4.9 million
  • Old Salem Road realignment and relocate the intersection away from Ga. 20 and Ga. 138 and the ramps at I-20 East interchange, $28.8 million
  • Flat Shoals Road widening from Ga. 162 (Salem Road) to Old Salem Road, $9.7 million

Search projects and leave your comments

Cities and towns submitted their wish lists in March: more than 400 projects worth up to $29 billion or more. Go to to see which projects hit closest to home and which have regional effects.