“The smart thing to do is to sit down with all the parties, find a route we agree on, have an intergovernmental agreement and pass a regional sales tax (to fund it),” said David Doss, a former State Transportation Board member. “Or we’ll be in court another six or eight years.”
Doss represented both counties when the current Route D-VE was selected as the way to best link Rome with Interstate 75 through Bartow County and ease congestion in Cartersville.
It appeared to be a done deal in 2008, but the wealthy Rollins family has been throwing up roadblocks to prevent it from running through their 1,800-acre ranch. Funding for the road, estimated at between $187 million and $230 million, also remains an issue.
Doss’ remarks drew applause at a Rome Tea Party event last week that featured Rollins representative Tom K. Perdue presenting arguments for choosing a different route. But the D-VE route is supported by many local elected officials and Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce members as crucial to future economic development.
“It’s easier to stop a road than it is to build it,” Dr. Dan Hanks said during the sometimes-contentious session. “The longer we wait, the worse it is for Floyd County, and if you ever want your kids to come back to Floyd County and have a job, you’d better think about it.”
Paul Smith, a former state representative who chaired the House Transportation Committee, also said the route has been properly vetted and the straight-shot connection to I-75 is badly needed.
“If it gets to the point where people with money can decide where roads go, it’s a hell of a note,” Smith said.
Despite the wariness of local leaders, Perdue said some of them indicated after the presentation that they might be willing to talk about other options. He said he would help gather Cartersville people who also are interested in finding a faster way to get the road built.
“I told David Doss I would work with him any way possible to get some meetings set up,” Perdue said. “I think there’ll be some community discussion now, That’s all I was hoping to generate.”
The Rollins family believes the Georgia Department of Transportation made errors in the way it picked the route — a contention Doss disputes — and Perdue said they will keep fighting to keep it from running through their property.
Route selection process
The GDOT evaluated eight conceptual routes on their economic viability and their ability to attract traffic, save travel-time and reduce congestion. The southerly routes were projected to be the best choices by the year 2030:
Traffic volume — Concepts A, B, and D would draw more than 24,000 vehicles a day. Concept G, the so-called Ridge Route, would draw about 7,000.
Congestion reduction — Concepts B and D were the only ones that would keep traffic volume on U.S. 41 below 23,000 vehicles a day. With Concept G, more than 40,000 vehicles a day would use U.S. 41.
Time savings — Concepts B and D would make traveling faster than Concept A, the improvement of existing roads. The other routes were projected to be slower.
Economic viability — The value of travel time savings was projected to be greater than the cost of construction in Concepts A, B and D, with Concept D having the highest rating.
Environmental studies started in the fall of 2003 and — after notifications, public hearings and a look at a few more alternatives — the Federal Highway Administration approved Route D in October 2008.
The route was later value-engineered to shave the projected costs from about $400 million to $200 million, and renamed Route D-VE. The changes meant the FHWA’s record of decision had to be re-evaluated using new environmental data. A ruling is still pending.
Rollins family attorney Henry Parkman also has written a letter protesting the inclusion of the U.S. 411 Connector (as designed) in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program that lists projects in line for construction.
Parkman’s Nov. 21 missive recaps previous objections ranging from the historic value of Dobbins Mine and the Euharlee Wildlife Preserve conservation easement to the potential of acidic runoff from a cut in the mountain and the effects on protected plants and fish habitats.
He also contends the GDOT route-selection process was flawed because it assumed population and jobs would grow equally as fast if the Connector was built or not built.
“A ‘no-build’ forecast that includes ‘build’ assumptions about land use stacks the deck against the no-build scenario by inaccurately increasing its impacts,” Parkman wrote.
He also notes that GDOT is again looking at a realignment, Route D-VE-A, and contends federal law requires the agency to start over with a comparison of other alternatives.