Rome – I-75 connector battle

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The Rollins family, the pest-control company clan, has been fighting the Georgia Department of Transportation over the state’s chosen route for the U.S. 411 Connector, which will connect Rome to I-75. Today, an attorney representing the Rollins ranch calls for a compromise route, while GDOT responds.

Commenting is open below Russell McMurry’s column.

A better road to Rome connector

By Henry Parkman

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is so out of touch that it has no problem spending more than $100 million to save drivers a tiny bit of time — 24 seconds, according to studies — on a trip from Rome to Atlanta. GDOT apparently has not learned much from the defeat of T-SPLOST last summer.

The U.S. 411 Connector was the centerpiece of the T-SPLOST list of northwest Georgia projects totaling $1.4 billion. The primary beneficiaries of the 411 Connector, Floyd County residents, overwhelmingly voted against T-SPLOST, even after GDOT touted the department’s version of the Connector in a presentation to the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce.

GDOT should now demonstrate that it can be a good steward of public funds, which would go a long way toward building its credibility.

The 411 Connector project is a perfect example of GDOT’s “my way or the highway” mentality. GDOT selected Route D, the most expensive route, from several alternatives in 2007. A great deal has changed since then. The economic climate is very different, and funding for road projects is scarce in the aftermath of the recession.

Route D was routed directly through Dobbins Mountain as well as a historic manganese mining site. The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places found that the Dobbins Mining Landscape, an area of over 200 acres, is entitled to protection under a federal law. Federal law now calls for GDOT to abandon Route D and select another alternative, yet GDOT insists on maintaining its route.

GDOT’s Route D presents yet another significant problem that likely will lead to a federal agency rejection. Massive excavation through Dobbins Mountain will uncover acid-producing rock. Dobbins Mountain is in an area known for several minerals, some of which produce harmful acid following exposure. To obtain approval of Route D, GDOT is required (but has failed) to assure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that any acid drainage will not harm the Cherokee darter, a fish on the Endangered Species List.

Finally, another alternative can be built to avoid Dobbins Mountain and to connect Rome to I-75 at less than half the cost. Route G, the most direct route to I-75 and GDOT’s first choice years ago, would be 2.4 miles shorter and have half the number of expensive bridges. It would save taxpayers over $100 million, yet would only take 24 seconds longer than a trip on Route D. Route A, which utilizes existing roads, is another viable alternative.

There is broad support for a better route, including from the Georgia Conservancy, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and local residents, many of whom are members of the Coalition for the Right Road (CORR). Even David Doss, formerly on the State Transportation Board and once a proponent of Route D, has recently called for a compromise route.

With all the economic, environmental and cultural resource issues plaguing Route D, a decision by GDOT to continue pushing that route would lead to the waste of more time and money. It’s time for GDOT to select a cheaper, better alternative.

Henry Parkman, a partner in the Litigation Group at Sutherland, represents the owners of Cartersville Ranch, an 1,800-acre property that would be bisected by the U.S. 411 Connector.

GDOT adjusting to ensure road’s success

By Russell McMurry

The Georgia Department of Transportation strives to bring projects of value and significance to the citizens of this state and all who use Georgia’s infrastructure. Numerous factors comprise the decision-making process in bringing a project to fruition, but one thing is consistent: All proposed projects must have a clearly defined need and purpose, and the design solution must satisfy its purpose for 20 years.

The current U.S. 411 Connector project started in 1993 as a regional mobility and connectivity initiative along with congestion relief benefits. The region had a growing population, an important business base that included manufacturers with freight movements, and a need for improved travel options from Rome to I-75.

In fact, easier access to Georgia ports and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was a driving consideration in the 411 Connector project advancing to the environmental process. The project is a federally funded project, which means full federal authority and oversight of all work related to it. Project costs would be paid with 80 percent federal dollars and 20 percent state funds.

An Environmental Impact Study was undertaken in accordance with federal laws and regulations, and was reviewed and approved by state and federal agencies. The department’s analysis was based on sound engineering principles, environmental impact and objective comparison of the alternatives to satisfy the intended need and purpose of the project. The entire environmental process is a tool for decision making. The whole progression was transparent and open to the public and included websites, a hotline telephone number, newsletters, flyers and focus groups with the impacted communities.

Multiple public information meetings were held detailing project alternatives, and a 27-member citizens advisory group was established. Ultimately, in 2009, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reached a Record of Decision supporting the Environmental Impact Statement that determined the preferred route of U.S. 411, Route D-VE.

Challenges to the project and certain circumstances, such as new environmental requirements, have slowed the project. As such, Georgia DOT has made numerous adjustments and will continue to do so to ensure the project’s purpose can be achieved. Along the way, all federal rules and requirements have been followed and will continue to be followed.

Currently, the department is re-evaluating the environmental impact based on other routes in the Dobbins Mine area. The goal is to complete that work by the end of this year, so that impacts and mitigation may be assessed and forwarded to FHWA for review and concurrence.

Planning and constructing any large infrastructure project is often a long journey with many challenges, and the Georgia Department of Transportation is committed to providing a safe, connected and environmentally sensitive transportation system that enhances Georgia’s economic competitiveness.

Russell McMurry is chief engineer at the Georgia Department of Transportation.

10 comments Add your comment

northern neighbor

March 5th, 2013
1:02 pm

It’s time for GDOT to give up and admit the Rollins family has better lawyers.
Build the road on an alternate route and get on with it.
I’m not for or against the Rollins and their ranch, but after 20 years GDOT needs to admit defeat.

MANGLER

March 5th, 2013
12:24 pm

Seems like turning Canton Highway, between 411 and 75, into a wider road with a more significant interchange at 75 would be the shortest and best option for truck traffic. Just don’t put in 15 red lights in that mile and mess it all up. Was that a GDOT option?

RA

March 5th, 2013
8:19 am

I live in the area that will be affected by this connector. The Rollins family and their money have fought this project since learning of the intent of the GDOT to bisect their “vacation ranch”. But, who can blame them? I would not want a 4 lane byway through my property either. There is nothing wrong with the roads we have currently. The GDOT wants to “improve” the route from 411 to I-75. They do not care about the families or lives this improvement will impact. At this juncture it is looking more and more like the GDOT just wants to build a road to use federal dollars. Civil engineers love to figure out how to “improve” things. Again, the roads we have currently are just fine.
Mr. McMurry responded with a lame government “form letter” that really does not say anything positive about this project. I wonder how he would respond if the project was going through his house.

GB101

March 5th, 2013
7:50 am

McMurry doesn’t really say anything, does he? His contribution is a non statement.

l

March 5th, 2013
6:41 am

The endangered species the Cherokee darter fish inhabits the proposed route. If the road were built, microscopic soot would fall on the waterway of the darter.
I would propose limited access from higway 41 running n.e. skirting historical landmarks. to link with U.S. I-75 at a new U.S. 20 interchange.
I am a great believer in historical landmarks. They represent the history of the area.
Now, $1.4 billion dollars 80% paid by the federal government seems like a windfall for local construction outfits and landowners. Let us take that money and develop a cleaner more livable environment. A new deep water harbor at Savannah woul lead to enhanced prosperity.

Road Scholar

March 4th, 2013
6:31 pm

SAWB: The Congress/EPA/FHWA changes the rules all the time. You cannot “outthink them”. While engineering has been done to an extent on all alignments, redoing the engineering is not as costly as litigation. Right of way already purchased that may not be needed due to an alignment shift could be an issue. Let the Rollins’s buy the “unneeded” property from the state (if the original property owners do not want to repurchase it), and move forward. Let’s hope the “unneeded property” near the Rolins’s is developed as Wally World, or some other cultural extravaganza!

Road Scholar

March 4th, 2013
6:24 pm

This is the third attempt to get clearance to build this transportation improvement. It is need to alter the southern end of the present corridor, which is dangerous and time consuming to traverse. Each time the project’s design is undertaken, the Rollins family has fought it to a standstill.

GDOT needs to directly answer the questions/concerns in the letter from the attorney. They also need to state what is the Need and Purpose and why this alignment is superior to not only the one endorsed by Rollins, but all others. If another is superior, then select it, get enviro clearance and move forward to construct. If the original meets the N&P and environmental concerns the best, let a grading contract and initiate litigation. That is where you are going to be with initiating the present alignment, so lets get going!

SAWB

March 4th, 2013
6:04 pm

Ok, reading between the lines it sounds as if the DOT has started a project and has now run into some issues that indicate that the proposed route my not be the best choice. However, due to the time already invested in the proposed route they wish to continue. For instance Mr. McMurray said, “…certain circumstances, such as new environmental requirements, have slowed the project…”. So, if less environmental sensitive routes exist why didn’t they select them to begin with?

I wish there were a third party commenting here as I’m not sure either of these two Gentlmen are giving us the full story.

Logical Dude

March 4th, 2013
5:03 pm

The current U.S. 411 Connector project started in 1993

Duuuuuude, it’s been 20 years and they haven’t even started it yet?

JF McNamara

March 4th, 2013
5:01 pm

I wish I could have the 5 minutes of my life back. Just start the first article with:

“Henry Parkman, a partner in the Litigation Group at Sutherland, represents the owners of Cartersville Ranch, an 1,800-acre property that would be bisected by the U.S. 411 Connector.”