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.
“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.”