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Suit against Houston Road widening in court today

By Christopher Schwarzen
The Macon Telegraph

Opponents of state highway officials' Houston Road widening project will take their case to federal court today.

A hearing on an injunction sought by members of CAUTION Macon will be heard in the federal courthouse in Macon by Judge Duross Fitzpatrick beginning at 10 a.m. CAUTION Macon is a nonprofit group that has questioned the necessity of city-county roads projects.

As part of the Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Program, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to widen Houston Road from two to five lanes, starting at Sardis Church Road and ending short of Ga. 247. The portion of road that connects with Ga. 247 will remain two lanes.

Right-of-way clearing has already begun, and widening will begin soon, DOT officials have said. They will stop only if Fitzpatrick orders them to do so, Joe Street, the DOT's director of construction, has said.

CAUTION Macon contends the project will affect residents' quality of life and diminish environmental stability. The group says the DOT and Bibb County officials have not looked at wider impacts of the entire roads program and, by not doing so, have broken federal law.

If Fitzpatrick rules in CAUTION Macon's favor, it could stop the project as currently designed, requiring the DOT to take another look at how best to widen Houston Road.

Atlanta attorney Richard Hubert will represent CAUTION Macon, calling residents and environmental-friendly road designer Walter Kulash to testify, CAUTION Macon members have said.

Kulash has given input on a number of road projects in Bibb County but was not hired to offer any formal design advice on Houston Road.

The hearing was first set for October in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, in Macon, but lawyers for both sides decided to meet out of court for discussions. Those discussions broke down in December, said attorney Hale Almand, who is representing Bibb County at the hearing.

Doug Hayes, a CAUTION Macon member who says he speaks on behalf of residents living near Houston Road, said little discussion of compromise ever took place. CAUTION Macon has said it probably would support a three-lane option.

Hayes said this hearing is more than a road issue, though.

"Roads have been an instrument urging everyone involved," he said. "People don't seem to be important in government anymore. We hope to open the eyes of officials that it's time to talk to the little man."

Regardless of Fitzpatrick's decision, Hayes considers the case a success.

"From now on, there's going to be a keen awareness that the public is out there and scrutinizing," he said. "If by chance government officials continue not to listen, there will be other cases to follow. We'll be watchdogging every project."

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



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