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DOT readies impact statement on Eisenhower extension

By Christopher Schwarzen
The Macon Telegraph - posted April 7, 2000  

The Georgia Department of Transportation is looking to the Federal Highway Administration for approval of the Fall Line Freeway through Macon.

The DOT will send FHWA officials its draft environmental impact statement for the Eisenhower Parkway extension later this month. The extension project is Macon's link to the Fall Line Freeway, a connector between Columbus and Augusta.

Federal highway officials must approve the draft document before it can be released to the public for review, said Harvey Keepler, a DOT assistant environmental location engineer. That could take one to two months.

"April 17 is a goal date to send that document to them," Keepler said. "There are still some things to work out."

Much of the Fall Line Freeway has either already been constructed or is being let for construction, DOT officials have said. But the Macon portion has raised environmental and cultural concerns.

Early route proposals sent the highway through wetlands and property that the Muscogee Indian Nation has said is its traditional cultural property. That area is located near the Ocmulgee National Monument.

On Thursday, Bibb County Engineer Bob Fountain said the Keeper of the National Registry, a federal office that determines historical boundaries, had upheld the Muscogee Nation's boundaries.

This could affect some of the DOT's route proposals, said Van Etheridge, program manager of the Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Program. During a public meeting last year, transportation officials presented 18 different options for connecting the Fall Line Freeway through Macon.

"People realized this was crossing that kind of property but didn't know the exact boundaries," he said. "Now that it's been determined, DOT can work around them. This is one piece of the big puzzle showing what (the project's) impacts are."

Once the draft environmental impact statement is approved, a public hearing and 30-day comment period will be held and a final document will be created, said Tom Queen, a district planning and programming engineer.

Once a final statement is approved, the DOT can move forward with designing a route for the extension. The project is planned to be let by 2002 and could cost between $80 million and $100 million.

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