Macon to LaGrange to US 27 proposed route map.
Supporters of a new highway that would directly connect LaGrange to Macon contend the road could help stir economic development in middle Georgia.
Dubbed the “Georgia Export/Import Highway,” the highway has won the support from middle Georgia city officials who have joined the Three Rivers Regional Commission and the Middle Georgia Regional Commission in an organized effort to increase awareness about the proposed highway. It would run through Bibb, Monroe, Pike, Upson, Meriwether and Troup Counties from I-85 near LaGrange to I-75 near Macon. The city and county governments within the six-county corridor region have passed multiple resolutions of support for the corridor study since 2006, according to Three Rivers Regional Commission officials, who have set up a website supporting the highway at www.georgiasexportimporthighway.com
“When this corridor comes over and connects to US 27, you will have access to the Savannah Port from Florida to Tennessee, up and down the state of Georgia,” said Robert Hiett, governmental services director for the Three Rivers Regional Commission in Griffin. Without the new highway, companies could start skipping Georgia, Hiett asserted. “There are 20 or so suppliers to the Kia Plant in this area, creating over 10,000 jobs,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of other companies that want to locate in LaGrange but they have to have better access to the coast so they can export their products.”
In August, the Georgia Board of Transportation voted to designate the proposed Macon to LaGrange highway as part of the state’s Freight Corridor network. House Bill 202, signed into law this past legislative session, allows for roads on the freight corridor network to be exempted from the requirement that transportation dollars be spent equally among Congressional districts. The routes would also qualify for enhanced federal funding.
“The Freight Corridor Network was identified through technology, data collection and discussions with leaders in the logistics industry,” said State Transportation Board Chair Jay Shaw. “We studied the situation and determined the most important areas of improvement to help keep freight moving and keep Georgia at the top of economic development efforts. We worked closely with the Georgia Ports Authority and the Center of Innovation for Logistics to ensure we incorporated future projections and needs for freight movement.”
While the freight corridor designation bodes well for the highway’s advancement, it is, however, not projected to be built until at least 2040 as part of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s statewide Freight and Logistics Plan. The plan recommends the state first tackle “long-haul interstate capacity expansions” on Interstate 85 between Atlanta and the South Carolina line, Interstate 75 from Atlanta to north of Macon and interstates 85 and 20 between Atlanta and the Alabama line. Other recommended improvements include interstate interchanges on I-285 at interstates 75, 85 and 20 in Atlanta, I-75 at I-16 in Macon and I-95 in metro Savannah and State Route 21.
Three Rivers Regional Commission Executive Director Lanier Boatwright said GDOT authorizing a detailed corridor study in the near future -- hopefully by December 31-- could help move up the project’s construction date.
“A study will give us an exact route, exact costs and an engineering report,” he said. Boatwright also pointed to the Georgia DOT 2010 – 2050 Statewide Freight Study, which ranked the highway as the highest performing potential Urban Bypass project for Georgia and said it is expected to provide the best return on investment of all statewide highway corridor projects.”
“This is the second most affordable project with the highest return on investment,” Hiett added. “It opens up the entire western side of the state.” Hiett acknowledged that the project will likely need “public/private” partnerships and/or tolls as options to fund the highway’s construction but he didn’t see getting private funders to the table as an issue. “States have a variety of methods to be able to bring the private partners to table,” he said. “There are private partners looking to do projects.”
Hiett said supporters are not asking for the road to be built today. “We understand that a majority of the truck traffic goes to Atlanta, but this project is about the trucks that don’t have to go through Atlanta now and in the future when the roads are clogged by a 300 percent increase in freight traffic,” he said.
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold said the Export/Import Highway numbers speak for themselves. “The cost benefits, as compared to other corridors, should move the Export/Import Highway to the top of the list,” he said.