Metro Atlanta would benefit from creation of Export/Import Highway

By Guest Columnist LANIER BOATWRIGHT, executive director for the Three Rivers Regional Commission

Why should Metro Atlanta residents and business leaders care about a little known proposed highway between Macon and LaGrange?

Because without it, freight traffic on Metro Atlanta’s roads and rail will increase by as much as 300 percent once Savannah’s Harbor is deepened in the next few years. That’s right. Triple the traffic that’s already there.

That’s the bad news. But there is good news for Metro Atlanta. A lot.

If built, “Georgia’s Export/Import Highway” not only will re-route those trucks around metro Atlanta and away from its commuters, but it will also strengthen Georgia’s long-term economic competitiveness in global trade by improving our state’s logistics infrastructure and intrastate commerce. And guess where the Southeastern United States’ logistics capital is? That’s right – Atlanta.

So what and where is this highway?

Georgia’s Export/Import Highway is a proposed multi-lane highway connecting I-85 near LaGrange to I-75 near Macon and is gaining support among industry and political leaders as a project that needs to be fast-tracked as an economic benefit to the entire state. The corridor could serve as a logical east-west continuation of I-16 and a parallel alternative to I-20 providing a direct route across the state from the port of Savannah to central and west Georgia.

Lanier Boatwright with map of Export/Import Highway

Lanier Boatwright with map of Export/Import Highway

This highway would relieve the increasing congestion along I-75, I-285 west, and I-20 specifically within metro Atlanta where – as mentioned above – freight traffic is expected to triple beginning with the completion of the deepening of Savannah’s harbor.

What are the specific benefits to Georgia and metro Atlanta?

The highway is critical to the economy of metro Atlanta and Georgia because it connects east, central and west Georgia manufacturers, exporters and importers. The port of Savannah and other ports along the eastern seaboard are racing to deepen their harbors to make room for supersized cargo ships expected to begin arriving via an expanded Panama Canal in 2015. This highway will provide the only direct east-west connection between the port and major west central Georgia importers and exporters like KIA Motors America, Inc., its suppliers, and 10,000 related jobs around West Point, Ga.

Producing more than 360,000 vehicles per year, the KIA plant has a $4 billion dollar per year economic impact on Georgia, and the plant has directly or indirectly created over 10,000 jobs in Troup County and the surrounding areas. As Georgia’s automotive industry grows, many of those related jobs are created in metro Atlanta for corporate, logistics and global sales operations and support.

And in case you’re wondering, this project isn’t just another “road to nowhere” with little or no benefit to the entire state. According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia’s Export/Import Highway is expected to provide the best return on investment of all statewide highway corridor projects, generating a return of $18 to Georgia for every dollar invested. Experts say the corridor will generate an annual economic impact of $11.3 billion and the potential creation of 2,738 new jobs for Georgia.

So, what’s the hold-up? What’s the next step?

It should be no surprise that Georgia has a limited number of dollars for a seemingly unlimited number of transportation projects. But that should not be an obstacle to starting the process. And that is our first step. Simply starting the process by making Georgia’s Export/Import Highway a priority.

We are encouraging citizens, business and elected leaders across Georgia to persuade GDOT to authorize and fund a corridor study this year to identify feasible location and alignment alternatives for the project between LaGrange and Macon. This first step will unlock any potential federal funding and allow us to seek new sources of public and private funding. It’s a small and inexpensive step to take – but one that’s needed to move forward because time is of the essence.

As the port’s deepening inches closer to reality, every day that passes without the study is another day lost to effectively manage the tripling of freight traffic in Metro Atlanta once it comes off those super-sized cargo ships.

In recent years, we’ve seen unprecedented bipartisanship and a coming together of the “Two Georgias.” We’ve witnessed our state and congressional leaders rallying behind the support of Savannah harbor’s deepening because everyone could see the benefits of that project to the entire state. But we can’t stop there. We must now focus on strengthening Georgia’s freight and transportation infrastructure to move those products across the state seamlessly.

Now is not the time to drop the ball. Now is the time to support Georgia’s Export/Import Highway because it’s the one project where everyone wins.


The Three Rivers Regional is one of the groups leading a coalition of business and community leaders in support of Georgia’s Export/Import Highway. For more information and ways you can help, visit


6 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    I like this proposed highway project and I think that is it a good road construction project for Georgia.
    If possible, I would like to see the road constructed and operated as a public-private initiative that is funded primarily with user fees (TOLLS), though I know that doing so might inspire some opposition from an increasingly-powerful and growing anti-road expansion contingent in Metro Atlanta, particularly if the road is proposed and presented as a new all-terrain highway with grade-separated intersections.
    If and when the state decides to move forward with this project, one cannot emphasize enough the importance of being discreet while executing this important road construction project.
    Being discreet means NOT openly publicizing the project in the Atlanta media so as not to run the risk of drawing undue attention and possible opposition from increasingly powerful and growing contingents of anti-road expansion factions in Metro Atlanta.
    Because of the state’s willful mismanagement and often wanton neglect of the multimodal transportation infrastructure in fast-growing and increasingly severely congested Metro Atlanta over the last 2 decades or so, and because of the previous dominance of South Georgia in state politics (a dominance in which state government seemingly prioritized funding developmental road projects in rural parts of the state over funding multimodal transportation projects in heavily-populated and severely-congested Metro Atlanta), the news of road construction projects in other parts of the state often does not receive a very warm and welcoming reception in mobility improvement-hungry Metro Atlanta and environmentally-conscious North Georgia, even if the road construction project has the best of intentions.
    For this reason, it might be best to be as low-key as possible when proceeding with and announcing the completion of the project, like has been the case with the nearly-completed Fall Line Freeway connecting Columbus with Macon, Milledgeville and Augusta.
    The state’s “under-the-radar” very low-key approach to the construction and near-completion of the Fall Line Freeway has been so effective that most residents in Metro Atlanta aren’t even aware that the project has advanced well beyond the proposal stage almost to the point of completion.
    Now it might okay to announce the completion of the proposed “Export/Import Highway”, but ONLY if the completion of the road is announced as part of a larger MULTIMODAL transportation initiative to relieve traffic congestion and improve mobility in Metro Atlanta, a large-scale initiative that includes improvements to existing roads packaged with an even larger-scale upgrade and expansion of the bus and rail transit network in the Atlanta region.Report

  2. writes_of_weigh says:

    Am I or am I not, terribly mistaken in believing that the previously funded and (nearly)completed corridors known as the Fall Line Freeway and Corridor Z(save for the yet to be built rail aspect(like linking state owned rail routes near Richland, Georgia with a former Brunswick-Dawson CSX line via Tifton)  and their interconnections with I-16 and I-75/475 and I-85/185 would not serve an identical purpose? And hasn’t Cambridge been paid for these very consults in issuing previous “studies” and “reports?” What’s new here, other than the attempted bamboozling of those in middle Georgia who bought the transportation sales tax ” line” last year by agreeing to tax themselves to pay for what they have already provided? It would have been cheaper to just liberally distribute the new(free) State Transportation Map to those mentioned in the article, in order for them to be more geo-spatially familiar with what is and isn’t..  – See more at:

  3. writes_of_weigh says:

    In terms of congestion on the metro’Lanta private rail network, both Norfolk Southern and to a lesser extent CSX, have “boxed themselves in” on Savannah port – mid Georgia, traffic dispersal options by abandoning, downgrading and/or failing to upgrade previously utilized routes(i.e.ex-Central of Georgia Griffin – Bremen Ga Chattanooga “mainline”(partially abandoned), ex-Central of Georgia Eatonton – Athens – Commerce “branchline”(partially abandoned/shortlined), ex-Central of Georgia Oak mountain(AL) tunnel on Macon-Birmingham mainline(never enlarged to handle double stack container traffic moving to/from Memphis/Louisianna), or on CSX’s ex-Georgia Railroad Augusta-Atlanta mainline(reportedly in a downgrade/light maintenance status). And what about the former CSX(Seaboard Coast Line) trackage in the Richland, Georgia area which was to have been upgraded(see adjoining comment) as part of the Corridor Z Brunswick, GA – Kansas City, MO upgrade, taken over as a State asset and then largely abandoned/shortlined? Were those rail related Corridor Z plans or pipe-dreams?  And what became of the tax dollars appropriated for that purpose? In whose bank account are those dollars a-building interest, now? Should build a very viable port traffic dispersal alternative to the impending doom and gloom of an Atlanta area rail traffic “grid down”. Musings from the past?Report

  4. Native son says:

    Folks I’m no transportation expert, but the Fall Line Freeway was conceived for the purpose of economic development and transportation efficiency through central Georgia and gets truck traffic, via I-16, to Columbus and I-185.  The amount of truck miles traveled up I-185 using the Fall Line Freeway doesn’t add much mileage to seem to warrant construction of yet another, very large and expensive 4-lane highway very nearby.  Look at the routes:  the distance a truck has to go using the Fall Line Freeway – SR 96-US 80 into Columbus to I-185 and up to LaGrange, is just not that much different than running on a new reconstructed road on SR 74 and SR 18.  If we’re going to tout ROI on this beast, we MUST be rational and do it weighed against a logistical analysis using the FLF.  If we’re not comparing apples to apples using the FLF in the discussion we’ve got our heads in the sand or, when it comes to spending this much money in the public’s trust, up something else.  To not do a fair comparison with traffic run on the FLF just because it’s almost completed is just poor problem solving.  Show me the math.Report

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @Native son Politics, my friend, politics.  
      Better connectivity between the West Point site of the Kia Motors plant and one of the world’s fastest-growing (and increasingly important) international seaports at the Port of Savannah in the form of the eventual construction of the “Export/Import Highway” between LaGrange and Macon was most likely one of the major factors that the state used to land the Kia Motors plant.
      Before Kia made the decision to build the new plant in West Point, the state most likely promised Kia that a new 4-lane road would be built between LaGrange and Macon.
      At the time, Kia was trying to decide whether they wanted to locate their new Southeastern North American plant in Alabama or Georgia.
      Promising the future development of a new 4-lane road between LaGrange and Macon that would help provide better connectivity with the increasingly important international seaport at Savannah was likely the deciding factor in why Kia chose to locate their new Southeastern North American plant in Georgia instead of than Alabama.Report


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