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Gwinnett County – A tale of growth and traffic

Gwinnett County - A tale of growth and traffic
By Dave Emanuel

Within the next few years, the population of Gwinnett County will exceed 1,000,000 people. That’s a good news/bad news proposition.

On the one hand, people are moving to Gwinnett County because of the opportunity, vibrance and opportunity it presents. On the other, increasing population translates to more traffic and road congestion.

Compared to other counties where infrastructure pre-existed or kept pace with population increases, Gwinnett County is at a bit of a disadvantage in dealing with traffic problems; its transition from a rural to suburban/urban area has been very rapid. Growth has outstripped the capacity of roads and highways and adding new roads or widening existing ones has become increasingly expensive, often to the point of being almost impossible.

With its current population of 859,304, and an area of 437 square miles, Gwinnett County has 1,966 residents per square mile. When population reaches 1,000,000, there will be 2,288 people per square mile. That pales to the density of cities like Atlanta with a population density of 3,392 (people per square mile) Chicago, at 11,538, Philadelphia at 10,774 or New York City at 27,651 people per square mile. (To put New York into perspective, one square mile within the city houses more people than the entire population of Snellville.)

Counties typically have lower population densities than cities; Fulton County has 1,840 residents per square mile, DeKalb 2,630, and Cobb County 2,078. In other parts of the country, county population densities can be dramatically higher or lower. Orange County California has 3,270 residents per square mile while rural Taylor County, Georgia has only 22 residents living in each square mile.

Those population densities put Gwinnett County’s into perspective. Although our traffic issues are considerably greater than those in Taylor County, they tend to be much better than problems confronted by residents of large cities or highly urbanized counties. 

The flip side of traffic problems is appreciating home values and wider entertainment, shopping and dining options. Higher population densities also tend to bring with them more educational and employment opportunities. In addition to a host of businesses that are now headquartered here, the county is also home to Georgia Gwinnett College. 

Neither the college nor the business activity would have occurred a few years ago, when the county was largely a combination of rural and bedroom communities. People moved here for a variety of reasons, primary among them reasonably priced houses and a decent commute to work outside the county. It wasn’t until the population increased that local business activity began to rise. And each fueled the other—population increased business activity and business activity increased population. As a result, many of the once easy commutes have become longer and more frustrating.

In the southern part of the county, Highway 78 is testimony to that. During peak commute times, traffic is often bumper-to-bumper for miles. Other areas are congested because of local businesses. The reason you’re stuck in traffic on Highway 124 in Snellville, on Highway 20 in Buford, on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth, or Satellite Blvd in Suwanee, is that each area has shops, restaurants and businesses that attract people. Some are local, others come from a distance, but all are there because of what the area has to offer.  

Unfortunately, increased traffic is the price we have to pay, but the bottom line is there are so many people in Gwinnett County because it has so much to offer. 

Dave Emanuel is Vice President of Random Technologies, a manufacturing company in Loganville, and a Snellville City Councilman. To read more from Dave Emanuel visit