More warehouses means more truck traffic

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Orchard Hills was a golf course on which I spent a few sunny days during my late teens into my early thirties.  It wasn’t part of an exclusive country club nor part of a developer’s pathway to sell suburban McMansions.  It was just a nice piece of rolling land that offered good, inexpensive daily fee golf to those who wanted to escape reality for a few hours to practice their swing and/or partake in a bit of outdoor day drinking.

The golf course closed several years ago, falling victim to oversaturation of golf in the suburbs.  The course’s location, adjacent to Interstate 85 and Georgia Highway 16 in Coweta county south of Atlanta, made the land ripe for repurposing. 

An announcement this week says that the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company will anchor a new industrial park being developed on the property.  The company will occupy 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space, in what the Atlanta Business Chronicle calls the “largest build-to-suit industrial space under construction in metro Atlanta”.  Goodyear is expected to employ about 150 Georgians in the facility.

Individually, headlines like this represent wins.  Jobs are created, and local tax bases are fortified.  Warehouses, in particular, tend to bring in significantly more in property taxes than the businesses that occupy them demand in county services such as public safety.  Their by-product, however, is traffic.  Specifically, truck traffic.

It’s when the successes such as this project transition from microeconomic headlines to macroeconomic statistics that the infrastructure that supports them must be examined.  Georgia’s transportation and congestion issues have been well documented, but have focused most directly on how to move people.  While policy makers have been arguing over cars versus transit, our roads have been filling up with trucks carrying freight.

There is no easy solution on the horizon.  There is clear evidence that the problem will continue to get worse.

Georgia is expected to add as many as 3 million new residents in the next quarter century.  These people won’t just bring their cars, but will also demand goods and services. These are increasingly delivered via delivery services, which themselves add multiple trips to and from residential homes daily.

The middle stage of both manufacturing and distribution requires warehouses, and Georgia’s geographic position and our ports and airport logistics hubs make the warehousing industry a logical fit for the state.  This extends from the Port of Savannah all the way down I-16, up I-75 into metro Atlanta, and all the way around the metro area and into North Georgia.  It’s truly a statewide issue.

And much like the projected cascade of new residents, new warehouses are coming.  There is a proposal to build out 1,400 acres with 18 million square feet of warehouse space in Butts county, about half way between Atlanta and Macon.  700 Acres adjacent to the Budweiser brewery in Cartersville, Northwest of Atlanta, have also been sold to be developed as warehouse space. 

Henry County, on the Southeast corner of metro Atlanta, considered a moratorium on warehouse development this summer.  The motion failed on a 3-3 vote.  Reading some local reporting on the subject indicates that the move wasn’t so much to stop warehouse development there, but was to add developer impact fees to front-end load the tax payments to the county.

The point here isn’t that we need to stop warehouse development.  We do need to understand, however, that the future is coming, and this – and truck traffic – will be part of it.

Our freeways are already full, and it can take a decade to get a permit for new lane construction before the first dirt is turned to pave a new road.  Even if we were to start today, that’s 1 million new Georgians and all the trucks that will bring the items to their new homes away from now. 

Georgia’s transportation planners better get moving if they want to keep Georgians moving.

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