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Defense gets turn in Houston Road hearing

By Christopher Schwarzen
The Macon Telegraph

Attorneys for federal, state and local transportation offices will begin presenting their evidence Friday despite motions to dismiss a request for a preliminary injunction against widening Houston Road.

Federal Highway Administration lawyer James Thomason III argued Thursday that CAUTION Macon's evidence in its case against five-laning Houston Road amounts to nothing more than the organization not getting its way.

The lawsuit has been brought by CAUTION Macon, a non-profit citizens group that questions the necessity of city-county road-improvement projects.

But federal district court Judge Duross Fitzpatrick said defense attorneys should begin presenting their witnesses this afternoon while he considers the motion.

"I'm not going to rule today or tomorrow," Fitzpatrick said Thursday. "I'll rule as soon as I get my thoughts together (on the case). That may be in the next 10 days or so; I doubt it will be before then."

Fitzpatrick will consider the evidence plaintiffs presented Wednesday and Thursday during two full days of testimony. Members of CAUTION Macon and traffic engineer Walter Kulash testified against the environmental assessment used to approve federal funding for the widening of Houston Road from Sardis Church Road to within 100 yards of Ga. 247.

CAUTION Macon contends the environmental assessment's findings that surrounding communities will not be significantly impacted by the widening are faulty. Witnesses, including Doug Hayes, Susan Hanberry and Dan Fischer, testified Wednesday about what they consider holes in traffic-count, air-quality and urban-planning studies.

Suzan Rivers, Marilyn Meggs and Debbie Varnadore added testimony Thursday about historic preservation and water drainage concerns.

Richard Hubert, CAUTION Macon's attorney, rested his case Thursday by introducing evidence including the environmental assessment, pictures, graphics and letters that address those concerns.

"I have no objection to our own material" said attorney Hale Almand, representing the city and county in the lawsuit.

The patience of all parties, including Fitzpatrick, had stretched thin by late Thursday. Hubert, asking a long-worded question of one witness, was cut short by Fitzpatrick.

"You're leading in a most flagrant way, Mr. Hubert," Fitzpatrick said, his voiced raised. "That sounded more like a closing argument than anything else."

Fitzpatrick told both sides he had hoped to finish the case today but was afraid that won't be possible. The defense is expected to call at least five witnesses. It has not named those people.

Because of a morning conflict, Fitzpatrick has scheduled the hearing to resume at 1:30 p.m. today in the federal courthouse on Mulberry Street.

To contact Christopher Schwarzen, call 744-4213 or e-mail



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