Outer Perimeter’s west leg needed to handle port’s cargo, says ports chief

By David Pendered

The western segment of a highway proposal generally known as the Outer Perimeter is needed to handle freight traffic heading to and from the state port in Savannah, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority said Wednesday.

Curtis Foltz

Curtis Foltz

“I absolutely think it’s needed,” Curtis Foltz told the board that oversees the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. Foltz’ comment came in response to questions after he delivered a routine ports update to GRTA.

Two GRTA board members pondered, after Foltz’ presentation, whether metro Atlanta’s highway system is able to accommodate ports-related freight traffic if cargo increases at forecast rates.

“Does there need to be a west-side loop around Atlanta,” Dick Anderson, GRTA’s vice chairman, asked Foltz.

Foltz’s response was reserved: “There have to be further efforts to address other transportation elements across the state.”

At this point, GRTA board member J.T. Williams joined in.

“Due to the port, trucks on the Downtown Connector will double in the next 10 years,” said Williams, who chairs GRTA’s Projects and Planning Committee.

“We can’t expand the Downtown Connector, but we can divert it,” Williams said.

Foltz responded that an additional bypass around metro Atlanta is needed to accommodate the expected increase in traffic to and from the Savannah port.

“I think it’s absolutely needed,” Foltz said.

“We’ve got a role to play up to this point – the shoulders have been trying to carry the load that’s on the picture,” Foltz said, pointing to a image of shipping tankers that illustrated his report on the ports’ work on the harbor-deepening project.

“I think what you said needs to happen,” Foltz said. “That, in conjunction with a couple of rail solutions, sets us up very well for the future.”

The Outer Perimeter is a lightening rod for critics of metro Atlanta’s sprawling development patterns. It has taken various forms over the years. The west leg is intended to provide a bypass for truck traffic traveling between the Midwest, and Savannah and Florida.

Advocates say the road would remove trucks that otherwise use the choked I-285 and Downtown Connector to travel through the region.

Critics say the road would open up more of Georgia’s rural countryside to development.

The proposed Outer Loop factored into the July 31 referendum on the proposed transportation sales tax in metro Atlanta. Voters rejected the tax in metro Atlanta, and also in eight other districts across the state.

The Sierra Club of Georgia opposed the proposed tax partly on grounds that one project it would have funded was almost identical to a segment of the proposed Outer Perimeter. Colleen Kiernan, the Sierra Club’s executive director in Georgia, could not be reached for immediate comment.

However, there has been no push-back to a report released in January that called for improving the state’s freight handling roads and rails.

The report outlined from $18 billion to $20 billion in needed upgrades. About $500 million worth of projects on that list would have been funded if voters throughout the state had approved the proposed transportation sales tax.

Foltz’ responses to Anderson’s initial question about the possible need for a western bypass around metro Atlanta underscored the broader issues of Georgia’s freight handling abilities.

In his presentation, Foltz had highlighted the attention paid by the ports authority to providing good access to the ports from both I-16 and I-95.

“I think that with the last-mile projects, with us working on the deepening, that end of the funnel is addressed,” Foltz said before turning to the issue of transport through North Georgia.

“There have to be further efforts to address other transportation elements across the state,” Foltz said. “Rail is going to play an increasing role. There needs to be a broader rail solution in the state of Georgia.”

 

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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3 comments
andymcburney
andymcburney

“Rail is going to play an increasing role. There needs to be a broader rail solution in the state of Georgia.”  Yes. I don't think we need to go building highways for trucking companies that are not paying their fair share as-is. A fully-loaded semi does as much damage to the road as 10,000 automobiles, but pays only a few times more in gas tax (http://www.thezephyr.com/environ/trucktrain.html). A little more business for the rail companies might justify the "hundreds of millions of dollars" it takes to work to unclog the Howell Junction in Atlanta (http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2010/09/06/story6.html?page=all). Still, that's got to be cheaper than a new freeway. And if you're going to complain about traffic on the perimeter, I have one answer: congestion tolling. Make those commuters who are clogging up our interstates pay for their impact on business, and the problem will go away. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Instead of attempting to fight yet another even bloodier and even more futile political battle to push through yet another wildly politically unpopular and already very politically toxic Outer Perimeter highway proposal that will more than likely result in yet another bitter failure and stinging defeat for those who back it (like they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result each time), may I suggest pursuing a transportation solution that is likely much less politically costly and much more politically realistic?

 

Instead of wasting precious political and financial resources in a futile pursuit of a wildly unpopular and politically toxic Outer Perimeter highway that is more than likely to yet again end in failure in the face of severe and angry public opposition, why not pursue truck-only lanes on I-285 and key stretches of Interstate highway outside of I-285?

 

Separating car traffic from truck and bus traffic by double-decking I-285 as part of a comprehensive transportation plan that includes dramatically increasing the amount of available freight rail and passenger rail-anchored transit capacity would be a much more politically doable way to help severely-congested Atlanta Interstates handle increasing volumes of truck traffic that are expected to continue to grow even more dramatically as more capacity comes online at the exponentially fast-growing and increasingly critically-important Port of Savannah. 

 

Separating car traffic from truck and bus traffic (elevated upper-level only for cars, lower-level only for trucks and buses) by double-decking I-285 (especially the West Wall of I-285, I-20 West, I-75 South & I-75 North outside of I-285, which are the sections of Atlanta Interstate that are the most heavily utilized by freight trucks going to and from the fast-growing and increasingly important international seaport at Savannah) along with increasing freight rail and passenger rail-anchored transit options is likely the only overall option politically and physically available to state and regional transportation planners looking to increase the amount of road capacity so as to be able to handle exponentially growing volumes of truck traffic on severely-congested freeways and Interstates in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia.

 

In this unique political environment in North Georgia where an new proposal for an Outer Perimeter is a political impossibility and the State Legislature likely wouldn't touch a new proposed Outer Perimeter with a 10 million foot long pole, anyways being that they consider the Outer Perimeter to be wholly POLITICALLY RADIOACTIVE after the late 90's Outer Perimeter and 2002 Northern Arc fallouts got the long-ruling Georgia Democrats kicked out of power in the State Legislature and the 2012 T-SPLOST political fallout pushed the now-ruling Republicans ever so closer to political peril, increasing freight truck capacity by expanding EXISTING Interstates and freeways VERTICALLY instead of the traditional horizontal expansion through widening or new all-terrain freeway construction is most likely the only way that a road expansion for trucks will ever take place as a new Outer Perimeter initiative will only be seen by the voters as a way for politically well-connected developers to profit from spreading yet even more auto-dominated sprawl and overdevelopment.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Pushing for a West Leg of the wildly politically unpopular and extremely politically toxic Outer Perimeter...Good luck with that...May I suggest repeatedly banging one's head against a brick wall until it is extremely bloodied, severely concussed and irrepairably brain damaged as a much less painful and much less futile alternative?

 

An Outer Perimeter highway may be an excellent transportation concept for metropolitan regions with overall much flatter and much less wooded terrain where environmental and developmental concerns are much less of an issue like those in Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, etc), but for the Atlanta metro region where the often pristine and richly wooded terrain of the Piedmont Plateau and the foothills of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains frequently ranges from rolling to hilly and even to mountainous in many places, as we have witnessed repeatedly over the years, a proposal for an Outer Perimeter highway is an infinitely much more challenging proposition.

 

While at least some segments of an Outer Perimeter highway would most certainly work great in theory to take increasingly heavy freight truck traffic off of often severely-congested Atlanta Interstates, after REPEATED political defeats and aborted and abandoned political efforts of road-heavy transportation proposals in which a proposed Outer Perimeter highway played either a central or partial role in the proposal and resulted in overwhelming defeat, an Outer Perimeter highway is most obviously NOT all that great of a concept in REALITY.