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LaGrange-Macon highway still under consideration

Post Date:12/30/2015

LaGrange-Macon highway still under consideration
by Winston Skinner
The Newnan Times-Herald

December 28, 2015

The Georgia Department of Transportation drew up plans for a highway connecting Macon and LaGrange almost three years ago, and some regional officials would like to see that project move forward.

Ed Bledsoe, a former mayor of Moreland who now serves on the Three Rivers Regional Commission, asked about the road project at the most recent regional commission meeting. The current plan calls for the road to pass through Meriwether County – north of the county seat of Greenville.

“Discussion has been underway for several years,” noted Carolyn McKinley, president of the Meriwether County Chamber of Commerce. “Currently the conversation and activity is focused on securing federal funds for a feasibility study.”

The project “would have tremendous impact on our entire region,” McKinley said. The highway could have major economic impact for Meriwether County. “Since the proposed route is south of Coweta, it probably would not have as much there.”

Still, there are Cowetans who see positive things coming from a LaGrange-Macon highway – even if its route is several miles south of the county line.

“I think the highway would help commerce in Coweta County,” said Greg Wright, president of the Coweta County Development Authority.

“A number of our existing industries rely on Georgia’s ports to import their raw materials and to export their finished products. The proposed highway would give Coweta companies another option for accessing the ports and the I-75 and I-16 corridors,” Wright said.

At the Dec. 10 Three Rivers meeting, Lanier Boatwright, executive director of the Three Rivers Regional Commission, responded to Bledsoe’s questions by talking about the need for further study.

“What we’ve asked for is for a study to be done to show us the exact route,” Boatwright said. While DOT did a preliminary map in 2013, the only set parameters seem to be that the highway would connect Macon and LaGrange.

The route on the current map runs through Meriwether, Troup, Pike, Upson, Monroe and Bibb counties. “We don’t know what the exact route might end up being,” Boatwright said.

There is some federal funding for such studies, but the LaGrange-Macon project does not qualify. “DOT’s time frame is too far out – so the federal government wasn’t going to fund that study,” Boatwright said.

“I see no excuse for that,” said Hays Arnold, longtime chairman of the Three Rivers board and mayor of Thomaston.

“The port of Savannah is expanding. The port of Brunswick is expanding. There is some talk that they might dredge St. Mary’s and create more ship traffic,” Arnold said. “This route is a no brainer as far as logistics.”

Arnold also said that – compared to alternatives that would speed goods to and from the ports across the state – the LaGrange-Macon project “pays the most in benefits from a cost-benefits factor.”

The LaGrange-Macon project is estimated to cost $200 million less than a single truck lane on I-75 in Atlanta, according to Boatwright. He said the new road “would take off more trucks than would benefit from that truck lane.”

Currently, a majority of the ports traffic is “being funneled into Atlanta,” Arnold said. “They want to take direct routes to wherever they are trying to go.”

Many Coweta industries import materials and goods from the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, and local companies also ship their products around the world through those ports. Georgia’s coastal ports have a major economic impact on the local area.

“This is a project whose time has come. The ports expansion – all of the indications, every single month they’re showing increases in traffic. The situation is not going to get better as far as traffic. They’ve got to do something – need to do something,” Arnold said.

“We’ve got legislative support,” Boatwright said. “It’s not something we’ve given up on or put on the back burner.”

“If funds can be secured for funding, there is no way to know how long it would take to actually fund the highway construction, if the feasibility study was positive, which everyone who has been working on this believes that it would be,” McKinley said.

Arnold said local officials need to advocate for the LaGrange-Macon highway. “Everyone’s work and efforts are needed. Be relentless in pursuit,” he said. “It’s a work in progress, and it will be for some while, I think.”

 

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