Proposed four-lane road in middle Georgia promoted as traffic reliever for I-20 in Atlanta, helpful to port

By David Pendered

Community leaders who advocate for a new highway that would improve access between LaGrange and Macon are pitching the proposed road as a way to ease traffic congestion in Atlanta and freight shipments to and from the state port in Savannah.

Advocates of this proposed road in middle Georgia say it would promote the state's economy and ease traffic congestion on I-20 in Atlanta. Credit: Mapquest, David Pendered

Advocates of this proposed road in middle Georgia say it would promote the state’s economy and ease traffic congestion on I-20 in Atlanta. Credit: Mapquest, David Pendered

The proposed highway earned high marks from the consultant who drafted the recent long-term transportation plan for the Georgia Department of Transportation. For their part, GDOT officials have said the state has scant dollars for major new projects.

But the economic challenge hasn’t stopped two regional commissions – Three Rivers and Middle Georgia – from launching a campaign urging GDOT to conduct a corridor study. Among the reasons they cite for the road is the relief it could provide to I-20 in Atlanta.

“We’ve chosen the tagline, ‘Everybody Wins,’ because this is the one project, along with the port’s deepening, that benefits the entire state and metro Atlanta,” Lanier Boatwright, executive director of Three Rivers Regional Commission, said in a statement.

The proposed highway would be built about 50 miles south of I-20 and parallel to I-20. Advocates have named it the Export/Import Highway.

This chart, with the rows enhanced by advocates of the proposed "export highway," was included in the freight report presented to GDOT. Credit: www.georgiasexportimporthighway.com

This chart, with the rows enhanced by advocates of the proposed “export highway,” was included in the freight report presented to GDOT. Credit: www.georgiasexportimporthighway.com

A map of the eastern U.S. shows the highway would provide a western bypass around metro Atlanta for long-haul routes between the Midwest and the port of Savannah.

In this scenario, LaGrange could become home to a major new intersection – the new four-lane road and U.S. 27. U.S. 27 would provide a portal to I-20, near the Alabama border, and I-75, near Rome.

Specifically, the road would be a four-lane highway stretching 87.3 miles along an asphalt corridor comprised of Georgia routes 109, 18 and 74. The highway would pass through towns including Greenville, in Meriwether County; Thomaston, in Upson County; and near Culloden, in Monroe County.

The road would cost $480 million to build, in today’s dollars, according to the GDOT report prepared by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. The resulting mobility would provide a return on investment of 18-to-1, by far the highest of eight corridors studied.

The Three Rivers Regional Commission has been working on the project since 2005.

The primary impetus was the Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia that began production in 2009. Along with creating more than 11,000 jobs in West Point and the surrounding area, the plant has been productive – on July 11, the plant announced a celebration marking the 1 millionth vehicle to roll off the assembly line.

Another driver came in the form of the increased capacity expected to result from the deepening of the Savannah port. More cargo to and from the port is expected from the larger, post Panamax ships that will be built to take advantage of the bigger Panama Canal.

The project was not included in the Three Rivers’ project list to be funded by transportation sales tax because of uncertainty over its inclusion by other districts. The commission included other projects that it could control, while keeping the proposed four-lane highway on the agenda because of its multiple attributes.

“It brings jobs and economic development to middle Georgia and it helps keep freight and truck traffic from increasing the estimated 300 percent on metro Atlanta roads in the next few years,” Boatwright said in the statement.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 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.

11 replies
  1. Wish for MIlton County says:

    This sounds like a good idea.  Especially to bring jobs to this part of middle Georgia.  With automotive and off road vehicle assembly plants in the area (Kia & Yamaha) many suppliers are looking for space to build or expand.  With Hyundia in Montgomery and their suppliers scatted along I-85, many shippers would use the Port of Savannah.  Especially with a more direct route. Savannah can compete with Ports in Mobile & New Orleans to supply automotive industry in Alabama.  Understand there is now an inland port in or near Cordele that connects with a railroad that runs to Savannah.  Again, easier access for containers to flow east & west along this new route, using intermodel services.
    It should be called the I-16 extension. Maybe paid through special  truck usage taxes.  Low enough so truckers won’t skirt the road.  Possible toll road to cover the bonds or bring in private investment.  G-DOT is low on funds.  Each county may have to float tax bonds to cover some of the cost.
    Point is, this project makes sense from a business development point of view.  This part of middle Georgia is lacking in economic development.  Wether it helps or hurts quality of life, environmentally, etc….  must be borne out.
    Not sure of the local politics, but I believe this is a win, win for all concerned.Report

    Reply
    • moliere says:

      Wish for MIlton County
      I am sorry but this is typical “fiscal conservative” delusions.
       “Maybe paid through special  truck usage taxes.  Low enough so truckers won’t skirt the road.”
      There is absolutely no way that the volume of trucks will be anywhere near high enough to pay for anything but a fraction of a large, expensive project like this. You would have to charge each truck an incredible amount of money per trip to do so.
      “Possible toll road to cover the bonds or bring in private investment.”
      Toll road? Ha! Again, the volume issue. Not nearly enough to cover the bonds. You need heavy commuter and other regular traffic to finance major projects with tolls. Tolls only raise enough money in heavily populated areas. And that is why there won’t be private investment. Because the toll revenue would be so low, there would be absolutely no way for them to make their investment back. You’d be better off suggesting that you could fund it with grants from the Ford Foundation or some other charity.   
      “G-DOT is low on funds.”
      Then adequately fund GDOT.  
      “Each county may have to float tax bonds to cover some of the cost.”
      Sure, if you want it to be done for the principle of the thing, to give them skin in the game so everyone can sacrifice and pitch in. But it won’t actually make much of a dent in the cost. Haven’t you seen the first round of collections from the areas that passed the T-SPLOST? We are talking about a few million dollars collected in these massive multi-county regions. Because these areas don’t have much of local economies, they don’t generate enough tax revenue to pay for anything approaching this. 
      That is the reality that comes with governing, and I wish more fiscal conservatives would embrace it. This is a project of statewide interest because of the impact on the economy (and the lack of ability of the locals to handle it themselves), not some county road to the corner market. The state is going to have to step up and do the heavy lifting to get this done, and we should dispatch your despised Kasim Reed to Washington to try to get some federal money to help also. He is friends with the new secretary of transportation so we would have a shot.Report

      Reply
      • Wish for MIlton County says:

        moliere Wish for MIlton County 
        The funding ideas are ways to keep it out of general funds.  Not sure if this area voted for their version of T-SPLOT.  But they need to watch those funds.  As the politicians will want to give to their cronies.
        In this discussion I have learned that another road project the FALL LINE FREEWAY is passing near by.  A half a billion dollars already spent or allocated.  So maybe, just maybe this road to LaGrange is redundent.
        As for adequately funding G-DOT.  How much do we raise the gas tax?  A nickle or a dime!  Will hurt a struggling economy, which is large part of G-DOT funding woes.
        If this road project is moved forward then funding will come from the T-SPLLOT, Indiviual county bonds (for section of road in their county), G-DOT, and feds.
        The rason for the road is economic development.  Fall Line Freeway, Z-Corridor, etc..  all trying to bring new economic investment to areas of Georgia.
        Fianlly,  Kasim Reed has friends in Washington, no doubt.  But he will never use his political capital on a road in the country.  He is wasting his on a Dome we don’t need, STREETCARS to nowhere and some other projects that will help few, but pad the pockets of many.Report

        Reply
  2. writes_of_weigh says:

    Am I 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..Report

    Reply
    • Wish for MIlton County says:

      writes_of_weigh   Good research.  State Rd 520 does open Port of Brunswick to additional traffic.  The proposed Fall Line Freeway is something I had read about but did not know was in anything but early planning.
      As for rail – I read somewhere that CSX was starting a daily train for auto parts going from Kia to Hyundia and visa versa.  Thus taking dozens of trucks off I-85 each day
      With the Heart of Georgia RR running their line from somewhere near Savannah to near the inland port at Cordele, CSX has trackage that runs to LaGrange from I believe Cordele and Tifon.  CSX has Brunswick Port.  NS RR and CSX have access to Savannah. 
      The area east and south of Columbus needs ecomonic development.  With Kia & Hyundia & Yamaha close, they should be players for supplier’s factories, warehousing, etc…
      Fall Line Freeway will take way to long to complete, though.  I-16 expansion seems to fit more logically into exsisting interstate layout.  May need to point it towards I-185 instead of I-85.
      As for T-SPLOT.  Those reading this whose regions voted for this tax had better watch what the politicians do with it.  Trust them as far as you can throw them.  This pot of money is way to attractive to them and corruption is sure to follow.
      Just look at what our wonderful experts & politicians do here in metro Atlanta.  We waste so much money up here on stupid things like STREET CARS for downtwon Atlanta! It is enough to make a grown man cry in their beer!!Report

      Reply
      • moliere says:

        Wish for MIlton County writes_of_weigh Again with the streetcar. The project will cost $50 million, most of that federal money. Another thing: Atlanta used to have streetcars anyway. They never should have been dismantled in the first place. If it was OK to have streetcars then, why is it wrong now? In any case, the frothing suburban hatred for a streetcar project that will only require about $15-20 million in local money, a mere pittance when it comes to the cost of transportation, shows that you guys are just sitting around waiting and hoping for the city to collapse and are furious that it is never going to happen. That is the real reason why the suburbanites were so dead set against the stadium deal when it wasn’t even their money being spent.Report

        Reply
        • Wish for MIlton County says:

          moliere Wish for MIlton County writes_of_weigh
          Yes Atlanta had street cars and buses.  all privately owned and operated.  MARTA took over the buses when the company went out of business.  I believe the street cars were removed before then.  Some history –
          MARTA is still tied down with a union contract that goes back to the 1960’s.  Renegotiated many times for sure.  But saddled with it never the less.  Lost in court several years back trying to stem the sick leave scam that was & is going on by the employees.
          Streetcars are going to cost more than $50 million.  Already at I believe $72 million constuction cost and rising.  WHO is going to pay for the cars, maintenance, salaries, healthcare/benefits and pensions.  I say the riders should!!!  City of Atlanta should!!  Not Fulton County taxpayers, not DeKalb taxpayers, not State of Georgia.  Not federal government.
          Please explain how a streetcar from Centinnel Park to MLK Center helps anyone in Hapeville, East Point College Park, Union City, Fairburn, Chattahotchee Hills or Palmetto.
          Not to mention – Sandy Springs, Roswell, Alpharetta, Milton, and Johns Creek.
          And that is just Fulton County.  Add all the cities in DeKalb County.  Now you are talking a large portion of the “PUBLIC” that have to support MARTA and receive little benefit.
          Streetcars are another subsidized public transportation that goes from nowhere to nowhere!  Helps very few of the “PUBLIC” and will cause more traffic than they relieve!Report

          Reply
        • moliere says:

          Wish for MIlton County moliere writes_of_weigh The cost may be $72 million if you add everything in but A) that is still a tiny amount for a transportation or other infrastructure project and B) the feds are paying most of it. 
          And we have already been over the MARTA thing. If Cobb and Gwinnett would join MARTA, the GOP would have a majority immediately on the MARTA board and they could get right to business voiding those contracts. 
          “Streetcars are another subsidized public transportation that goes from nowhere to nowhere!”
          You mean like highways and airports? Most highways never make back the cost of their construction and most airports do not turn a profit but rely on taxpayer dollars to survive. It appears that conservatives like some forms of public transportation more than others.Report

          Reply
      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Wish for MIlton County writes_of_weigh {{{“The proposed Fall Line Freeway is something I had read about but did not know was in anything but early planning.”}}}
        {{{“Fall Line Freeway will take way to long to complete, though.  I-16 expansion seems to fit more logically into exsisting interstate layout.  May need to point it towards I-185 instead of I-85.”}}}
        The Fall Line Freeway is actually almost complete except for one final nine-mile section near Milledgeville.
        The State of Georgia let the contract to complete the final nine-mile section of the road back in January.
        David Pendered even wrote an article here in the Saporta Report back in January about the total lack of public reaction in Metro Atlanta to the pending completion because of the state’s intentional downplaying of the developmental road project.  http://saportareport.com/blog/2013/01/silence-greets-last-contract-for-a-developmental-highway-fall-line-freeway/
        The state is keeping the pending completion of the Fall Line Freeway very-quiet and under wraps so as to not arouse the ire of frustrated mobility-challenged Metro Atlantans who likely would not respond very well to the news that the state has almost nearly completed a developmental highway across sparcely-populated Middle Georgia while heavily-populated Metro Atlanta continues to struggle mightily with a very-severe traffic congestion problem that has been exacerbated in large part by the failure of the state to adequately invest in the Atlanta region’s transportation infrastructure.
        Metro Atlantans’ continuing unhappiness (and disillusionment) with the state’s extremely lackluster performance on (and severe neglect of) transportation issues in the Atlanta region is the reason why any news of a new highway connecting Macon with LaGrange would likely be kept as quiet as possible with very-few highly-touted press releases alerting the public (including angry gridlocked Metro Atlantans) to every successful milestone of a project that Middle Georgians will love and Metro Atlantans will love to hate.Report

        Reply
        • Wish for MIlton County says:

          The Last Democrat in Georgia Wish for MIlton County writes_of_weigh 
          Last Democrat – I researched the Fall Line Freeyway and read the 01/03/2013 article.  Was somewhat shocked that the project was near completion.  
          So it seems this new project to LaGrange is somewhat redundant.  IN the current article there is a chart showing ROI (Return on INvestments) for various road projects.  Funny the Fall Line Freeway was not mentioned.
          Seems some slight of hand is going on!  Would you not agree?
          Once again I tip my hat to your research.  I will have to up my game!!!!  LOL!Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          Wish for MIlton County The Last Democrat in Georgia writes_of_weigh {{{“Last Democrat – I researched the Fall Line Freeyway and read the 01/03/2013 article.  Was somewhat shocked that the project was near completion.”}}}
          …That’s okay, I didn’t know that the Fall Line Freeway was nearing completion either until the Saporta Report and the Atlanta Business Chronicle ran articles about it.
          That’s because the state has intentionally been keeping the Fall Line Freeway project as quiet and as low-key as possible so as not to attract strong opposition from angry road expansion-averse and increasingly politically-dominant Metro Atlantans who, because of continued high rates of population growth, continue to have a greater say in statewide elections in a state that has traditionally been dominated by rural and downstate interests.
          {{{“So it seems this new project to LaGrange is somewhat redundant.”}}}
          …I would not necessarily say that the road construction project proposed to run between Macon and LaGrange is redundant as much as it is probably both an at-grade substitute for the unpopular Outer Perimeter Atlanta bypass highway proposal of the 1990’s, and a way to better and more-directly connect the Kia automobile manufacturing plant with the busy international seaport at the Port of Savannah.
          The state cannot build these roads as interstate-standard highways with separated-grade intersections and interchanges because of the intense opposition and outrage that the roads would inspire in now-politically dominant Metro Atlanta, so the state has to build the roads as 4-lane divided surface highways with at-grade intersections.
          Since the original grade-separated Outer Perimeter proposal was overwhelmingly (and ANGRILY) rejected by a voting public that was led by disgruntled road expansion-averse Metro Atlantans, the only thing that the state can do to attempt to provide a way for freight truck traffic to bypass severely-congested Metro Atlanta is upgrade existing 2-lane surface roads into 4-lane divided highways.
          In a way, upgrading existing 2-lane roads to 4-lane roads might be smarter because the state spends less money largely to upgrade existing roads instead of spending more money to build new roads (with greater right-of-way acquisition costs, greater design and construction costs, etc).
          {{{” IN the current article there is a chart showing ROI (Return on INvestments) for various road projects.  Funny the Fall Line Freeway was not mentioned.”}}}
          …The Fall Line Freeway probably was not mentioned on the chart showing ROI because construction on the Fall Line Freeway was probably well under way by the time that this chart (which seems only to show projects that have not yet been built) was made.
          Not to mention the intense opposition to new all-terrain highways that would come from a dominant political block in the road expansion-averse Metro Atlanta/North Georgia region.
          {{{“Seems some slight of hand is going on!  Would you not agree?”}}}
          …I agree that some sleight of hand is going on by the State of Georgia, but only because news of the construction of new 4-lane highways in sparcely-populated rural parts of the state usually inspires much outrage in mobility-challenged Metro Atlanta.
          But using sleight of hand political techniques is much more of a necessity than optional these days when it comes to building both developmental and logistical roads in rural parts of the state outside of Metro Atlanta.
          That’s because, despite Metro Atlantans’ growing hate of using road expansion projects to address the region’s perennially severe traffic congestion, other economically-disadvantaged and sparcely-populated rural areas of the state remain in need of economic development projects that can help those disadvantaged (and often impoverished) areas attract the jobs that they often so desperately need.Report

          Reply

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