600 turn out for CAUTION Macon
Road foes to pay lawyer with right-of-way fees
By Jennifer Plunkett
The Macon Telegraph
Hundreds of roads program critics roared with approval Thursday when told that an Atlanta attorney experienced in fighting transportation projects will take up their cause - and that the legal fight would be funded in part by fees paid by the program to residents for rights-of-way.
Residents also cheered the announcement that state Sen. Susan Cable, R-Macon, at the request of Bibb County Commissioner Dennis Dorsey, had agreed to ask the state attorney general to review the legality of changes in the $300 million city-county roads improvement program since the measure narrowly won voter approval in 1994.
The CAUTION Macon rally, attended by nearly 600 residents at Tinsley Elementary School, also drew city and county officials and representatives of Moreland Altobelli, manager of the Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Program.
CAUTION Macon wants to delay some projects for reworking of designs that members say are destructive to scenic and historic neighborhoods.
"I want to see some He-Man, spit-in-your-face, knight-in-shining-armor courage to put this thing on track," organizer Suzan Rivers said to public officials in the hot, crowded school auditorium.
Moreland Altobelli representatives said they were present to observe and did not address the rally.
CAUTION members hired attorney Richard Hubert to represent them in program proceedings. Hubert represented a CAUTION group in Gwinnett County and challenged the Presidential Parkway project in midtown Atlanta.
Members said Hubert's fees will be paid with donations and funds paid by Moreland Altobelli for condemned rights-of-way. Hubert did not attend the rally.
"I think it's poetic justice that (the road program's) own insensitivity and greed will help pay for the lawyer to fight them," said Houston Road resident June Bryant.
Earlier Thursday, CAUTION members raised their concerns to the road program's executive committee. Organizer Tom Scholl read from a federal highway design manual that requires officials to involve residents "beyond conventional public meetings at which well-developed design alternatives are presented."
Road program officials said they have conducted public meetings so that project managers could comply with "the spirit and the letter" of the manual.
"But we'll continue to try for consensus," said Tom Moreland, principal engineer for Moreland Altobelli.
At the rally, members prepared an impromptu report card for the roads program and for Larry Justice, chairman of the Bibb County Commission and of the roads program executive committee. The verbal report card resounded with failing grades.
"The goal is not to stop the roads program," said organizer Walker Rivers. "It's to have real road improvements."
Attending the school rally were Macon Mayor Jim Marshall, Moreland Altobelli engineer Joe Johnson, Moreland Altobelli spokesmen David Price and Jimmy Conner, technical advisory committee member Bill Causey and City Council members from every ward - Calder Clay, Mike Cranford, Thelma Dillard, Henry Ficklin, Lonnie Miley and Brenda Youmas.
"This process and this kind of push will undoubtedly result in better designs on our projects," Marshall said. "Frankly, I appreciate the help."
Marshall has been the lone advocate on the executive committee for input from road consultant Walter Kulash. The roads program hired Orlando, Fla.-based Kulash in response to demands for neighborhood-friendly road designs. So far, he has been asked to review about a dozen of the program's 61 projects.
CAUTION, which stands for Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Our Neighborhoods, formed last year over concerns about projects. Members contend the projects go beyond what voters approved in the referendum.
Last September, the group held its first rally to insist that all 61 road projects be placed on hold until Kulash could review them.
The group also met later in the year with federal and state officials to put pressure on the transportation officials who control more than half the money in the roads program.