Silence greets last contract for a developmental highway – Fall Line Freeway – once a bone of contention

By David Pendered

The silent thud of public response to the pending completion of the Fall Line Freeway is an indication of how far the politics of roads in Georgia have evolved in 25 years.

Fall Line Freeway

Fall Line Freeway. Credit: “The Augusta Chronicle”

There was a time the very words “developmental highway,” which is what the Fall Line Freeway is, sparked strong response from friends and foes. However, there was barely a peep after the state announced Wednesday the final contract to complete the road was let – for $53.8 million with completion set for 2015.

Georgia’s developmental highway program was nothing less than mind-boggling when created in 1989 by the Legislature. It now calls for establishing 19 development corridors along 3,273 miles of roadway. The ambitious goal was to place 98 percent of all Georgians within 20 miles of a four-lane road, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The Fall Line Freeway is one of these corridors.

The Fall Line Freeway is a 215-mile freeway that crosses the state – and a host of intersecting highways – from Columbus to Macon to Augusta. GDOT has paid more than $500 million since its construction began, according to the department.

Once complete, it is to promote trade routes across the state and unblock the route from the industries of Columbus to the port of Savannah.

The final segment to be built by 2015 stretches nine miles, between Ga. 24 and U.S. 441. The road is south of Milledgeville, in Baldwin and Wilkinson counties. Balfour Beatty Infrastructure, Inc., of Fleming Island, Fl. will do the job.

This section of the freeway is a feat of engineering that helps explain why there’s not been a highway in the area previously.

Just this one nine-mile stretch of road will have a total of eight bridges across the Oconee River and two area creeks.

Governor's Road Improvement Program

Click on the image to enlarge.

Back in the 1980s, criticism to the state’s developmental highway program emanated from across the political spectrum.

Some environmentalists complained about paving the way to sprawl, of paving over culturally significant areas, of hastening the end of some good things about Georgia’s rural heritage.

Other opponents criticized the idea of spending taxpayer dollars on “roads to no where,” highways that passed dying towns better left to fade quietly.

All the opponents ran into backers such as Bobby Parham, a fierce advocate for the developmental highway program named the Governor’s Road Improvement Program, or GRIP.

“I’ve spent four years on this [GDOT] board and 34 years before that in the Georgia House of Representatives,” Parham said in a statement released by GDOT. “A lot of my work during those years was devoted to the Fall Line Freeway. To finally see it completed and witness its benefits to Middle Georgia will be wonderful.”

Johnny Floyd is another strong supporter of GRIP. Floyd now chairs the state Board of Transportation, after serving the Cordele area in the state House from 1989 through 2007.

“This is a great day for Middle Georgia and a great day for the GRIP Program,” Floyd said in the GDOT statement. “The purpose of GRIP – to stimulate economic growth throughout the state – has never been more important than it is today. The Fall Line Freeway and the other GRIP corridors will help Georgians in their daily lives and also help us sustain and grow Georgia’s economy.”

 

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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6 comments
The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

The reason why there has been virtually no public reaction to the pending completion of the Fall Line Freeway is likely because there seemingly has been very little, if any, media coverage of it in Metro Atlanta.

 

Not too many Metro Atlantans seem to even be aware that the road is in the relatively-advanced stages of being completed.

 

If it were not for this article in the Saporta Report by Mr. Pendered, I myself likely would not even be aware that the Fall Line Freeway project was in progress, not to mention knowing that the project was so far along in its construction.

 

If they are like myself, those seemingly few Metro Atlantans and North Georgians who may actually be aware that the Fall Line Freeway is in the relatively-advanced stages of progress or even aware that it is on the books as an actual road construction project likely may think that the Fall Line Freeway is still in the proposal or conceptual stages.

 

Also adding to the lack of public response and lack of public awareness over the completion of the Fall Line Freeway is that the state has likely been keeping the project under wraps by not publicizing the Middle Georgia road project so as not to draw the ire of disgruntled Metro Atlantans and North Georgians who have seen very little, if any, progress on the transportation infrastructure investment front by the state over the last two decades during a period of time that the population of the Metro Atlanta region has skyrocketed through the roof from roughly 2.9 million inhabitants in 1990 to nearly twice that at roughly 5.8 million today.

 

News of a very major transportation infrastructure project nearing completion in sparcely-populated Middle Georgia might not go over all that well in a heavily-populated North Georgia region that has seen very-little constructive attention towards its increasingly overwhelming transportation matters from a state legislature that many Metro Atlantans understandably perceive to be either totally disinterested, totally incompetent or a very-robust combination of both total disinterest and total incompetence.

 

Heck, many transportation infrastructure-starved Metro Atlantans and North Georgians might even outright flip their lids if they knew that a major road construction project was underway in Middle Georgia, hence the reason why the virtual complete and total lack of publicity by the State of Georgia about the amount of progress of the construction and completion of the Fall Line Freeway.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@ The Last Democrat in Georgia

It's the same reason the DOT built the southern end of GA400 so you couldn't exit onto I85North - enhanced job security. If you build it wrong the first time, you keep your job and you get to rebuild it later. More money for DOT in the long run.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 You might have a point there, though I don't know if many Georgians may think of there being a method to the madness to the many mistakes that the State of Georgia has made with regards to transportation matters.

 

Many Georgians think that the State of Georgia is just simply incompetent, especially seeing as how it might take several decades before another contract is let by the state so that those initial roadbuilding mistakes are corrected as was the case with the GA 400/I-85, GA 400/I-285 North, I-20/I-285 West and I-85/GA 316 interchanges.

 

Not only was GDOT wrong in not completing the reconstruction of the GA 400/I-285 North interchange and completing the GA 400/I-85 interchange when the construction of the GA 400 Extension was built through Buckhead two decades ago.

 

GDOT was also likely even moreso wrong when it built the GA 400 Extension through densely-developed and highly-affluent North Atlanta and Buckhead as a new all-terrain above-ground expressway that required the condemnation and demolition of many higher-end homes and properties in one of the most affluent neighborhoods of the metro area.

 

The Georgia 400 Extension through North Atlanta and Buckhead should have been built as a subterranean expressway tunnelled well below-ground so as to avoid any significant disturbance of the densely-populated neighborhood located in the road's path.

 

Condemning and demolishing neighborhoods of any socioeconomic status or average income level for the construction of any new road is highly-destructive to the social and physical fabric of a community in almost any and every case, but condemning and demolishing densely-developed and populated neighborhoods for the construction of new expressways through hot and trendy areas of such affluence as North Atlanta and Buckhead

 

Condemning and demolishing parts of North Atlanta and Buckhead for the construction of the Georgia 400 Extension was a Pyrrhic victory in that the state got a crucial section of the road network constructed that was critically-needed, but at the same time with such public dissatisfaction over parts of two of the trendiest and most affluent neighborhoods in the city being leveled for new road construction, the GA 400 Extension was likely the last new major above-ground expressway that will ever be built in Metro Atlanta for the foreseeable future at this point.

 

One can likely even argue that it was the relatively-unpopular (but arguably very-necessary) construction of the Georgia 400 Extension through North Atlanta and Buckhead that played a major role in the public's rejection of the proposed Northern Arc Bypass through the outer suburbs of North Metro Atlanta a decade later and the public's rejection of the road-heavy T-SPLOST two decades afterwards.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia  At least, on GA400 they put MARTA right of way in the middle of part of the route. That was a brief moment of lucidity, never repeated since.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 And even those MARTA heavy rail tracks down the middle of the GA 400 right-of-way were forced on GDOT as part of the deal for the state getting to construct the GA 400 Extension through densely-developed areas Inside-the-Perimeter.

 

Almost just as an heavy rail transit line can be run underground if necessary so as to avoid significant disruption or even outright destruction of a densely-developed or densely-inhabited area that lies directly in the path of a rail transit line, the entire Georgia 400 Extension through North Atlanta and Buckhead, expressway and MARTA heavy rail line, could have and should have been tunneled underground so as to avoid significant disruption and destruction of two of Metro Atlanta's most-desired most-established neighborhoods.

 

Condemning and leveling poorer neighborhoods is destructive enough to a metro area's physical and social fabric, but condemning and leveling affluent neighborhoods can have the effect of completely turning-off the public from wanting any new roads built as a whole, especially if the very-affluent who have the most influence in the political process think that they are just as vunerable to having their homes condemned and demolished for new road construction as the working poor are in the inner city, which seems to have been a big part of the case of why the Outer Perimeter and the Northern Arc were rejected by the public...Because the very-affluent who lived in and near the route of the proposed road did not want their six and seven-figure homes to be negatively affected by the construction of a new multi-lane expressway and the sprawl that it would likely spawn near their recently-established pockets of residential affluence (see Forsyth and Cherokee counties where resistance against the Northern Arc/Outer Perimeter was the greatest).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Why didn't the state build and design the Fall Line Freeway as an ACTUAL EXPRESSWAY with separated-grade crossings and interchanges built to Interstate standards rather than just as another high-speed divided highway with (often dangerous and deadly) at-grade intersections?

 

It seems that the state would have learned from past mistakes of building high-speed divided surface roads with deadly at-grade intersections.

 

Those past roadbuilding mistakes namely include the short-sighted construction of Georgia Highway 6/Camp Creek Parkway/Thornton Rd as a very busy surface road between the Atlanta Airport and West Georgia city of Rockmart and the even more short-sighted and misguided construction of Georgia Highway 316 between Lawrenceville and Athens as a high-speed divided highway that was strewn with too many stoplights and too many dangerous at-grade intersections that lead to too many deadly high-speed crashes.

 

Georgia Highway 6 between the Atlanta Airport and Rockmart (and on up to the Northwest Georgia city of Rome) and Georgia Highway 316 between I-85 in Duluth and Athens should have been built as Interstate-standard high-speed expressways with separated-grade intersections and interchanges, just as the new Fall Line Freeway should have been built an Interstate-standard high-speed expressway with separated-grade junctions and interchanges. 

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  1. […] This is an excellent idea which the State of Georgia has already enacted with the nearly-complete Fall Line Freeway through Middle Georgia connecting Columbus, Macon and Augusta which the State of Georgia has been quietly constructing so as to not incite the wrath of congestion-plagued Metro Atlantans who may not be too happy to know that a major road construction project is being completed in a more sparsely-populated part of the state while Metro Atlanta still struggles with some of the Western Hemisphere's worst traffic congestion and an increasingly notorious continued dearth of multimodal transportation options. Silence greets last contract for a developmental highway […]