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Thomas Metthe/The Macon Telegraph
Once finished, this portion of Ga. 57 between Macon and Gordon is due to be part of the Fall Line Freeway.

Midstate counties banking on Fall Line Freeway

By Rob Peecher
The Macon Telegraph

MILLEDGEVILLE - While the course of the Fall Line Freeway through Macon is still being debated, officials in some Middle Georgia counties are eagerly awaiting the road's opening.

The goal of the program is to connect 95 percent of the state's cities with a population of 2,500 or more to the interstate system via four-lane roads. The program also will help put 75 percent of the state's population within two miles of a four-lane highway, Wayne Hutto, assistant director of pre-construction for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said.

More than half of the 215-mile, four-lane corridor from Columbus to Macon to Augusta is either complete or under construction, according to Wayne Hutto, assistant director of pre-construction for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"The remaining parts of that corridor are being developed," Hutto said. "We're either working on environmental, design or right-of-way activities."

The Fall Line Freeway, much of which will run along improved existing routes, is part of the Governor's Road Improvement Program, initiated in 1989.

The goal of the program is to connect 95 percent of the state's cities with a population of 2,500 or more to the interstate system via four-lane roads. The program also will help put 75 percent of the state's population within two miles of a four-lane highway, Hutto said.

The Fall Line Freeway, a project estimated to cost $287 million, will provide a direct corridor from Columbus to Augusta. The first section, from Columbus to Macon, is 75 percent under construction or open to traffic. The second section, from Macon to Augusta, is 44 percent under construction or open to traffic.

All across Middle Georgia, from Butler to Sandersville, business leaders see potential from the highway. Perhaps some of the biggest is from Macon to the northeast, just as others once saw Interstate 16 as a boon when it went southeast from Macon.

Officials of Wilkinson, Washington and Baldwin counties believe the freeway will make their counties more attractive to industry and more accessible to tourists, but most particularly in Wilkinson County, where another GRIP highway, U.S. 441, intersects with the Fall Line Freeway.

"I think it's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for development," said Joe Boone with the Wilkinson County Chamber of Commerce. "There's only one place in Georgia where those two (roads) intersect, and that's in Wilkinson County. It's almost a no-brainer. I hope it will be a great drawing card for industry."

Boone said, "We're two hours from the Atlanta airport and two hours from the port in Savannah," Boone said.

Frank Pendergast, who sits on the Baldwin County Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors as well as the Forward Baldwin business and industry council, said he hopes the Fall Line Freeway will make Baldwin similarly attractive to industry.

"I think it would be a windfall for us," Pendergast said. "We have the amenities to attract industry: the lake, hunting and fishing, a junior college and a university, the cost of living is low and the quality of life in Baldwin County is pretty high."

But in a county where several state and U.S. highways intersect, there are no major four-lanes coming through Baldwin, Pendergast noted. Industry is looking to locate in areas that not only offer good quality of life but also a route for bringing in raw materials and taking out manufactured goods, he said.

Hutto said one of the prime motives behind developing the Fall Line Freeway was to help promote economic growth in areas such as Baldwin and Wilkinson counties.

Through Baldwin, Wilkinson and most of Washington counties, the Fall Line Freeway is still in the environmental-impact phase, though public hearings have recently concluded, and the DOT expects to complete its analysis from those hearings and begin right-of-way acquisition.

Both Hutto and Boone, who attended a recent public hearing in Gordon, said there is little opposition to the Fall Line Freeway.

"Overall, people are in favor of it," Boone said. "There are understandable objections from folks who are going to have it going through their front yards, but that's understandable, and there's always going to be some opposition."

With the availability of funds always a concern, completion of the Fall Line Freeway through the counties east of Macon could still be six to 10 years away, Hutto said.

Freeway progress

Here's an update on the progress of the Fall Line Freeway through Middle Georgia counties:

BALDWIN and WASHINGTON counties: The freeway will cross into Baldwin County and then into Washington County, where the 9.5 mile Sandersville bypass already has been finished.

BIBB COUNTY: The freeway comes up I-75 to Macon, where it turns east along U.S. 80 (Eisenhower Parkway). From there, the route waits for the conclusion of environmental studies. The DOT is looking at several factors which may impact the route the freeway takes south of downtown area, across wetlands which have historical significance to Native Americans and near the Ocmulgee National Monument.

Among the factors is the consideration being given to the Creek Indians' traditional cultural property. The process to determine the route is expected to take several years.

CRAWFORD COUNTY: The roadway and bridges for the section crossing Beechwood Swamp and the Flint River in Crawford County are complete and open to traffic.

PEACH COUNTY: Construction will soon begin from the Flint River to the Fort Valley bypass in Peach County, and the DOT has concluded environmental activities and surveys to add two lanes to the Fort Valley bypass.

From Fort Valley to Interstate 75 in Byron, the freeway is complete where it follows Ga. 49 to Byron.

TAYLOR COUNTY: From Junction City in Talbot County to Taylor County, a distance of 6.4 miles, the environmental work is complete. An engineering consulting firm is preparing construction plans and right-of-way acquisition has begun.

The Butler bypass is under construction and is expected to be finished by the end of October. Design changes resulting from a public hearing held last year in Reynolds may delay the start of right-of-way acquisition from the Butler bypass to Reynolds.

TWIGGS COUNTY: A portion of the road, just over three miles, has been completed in Twiggs County and is open to traffic. The freeway is expected to be open to just east of the Wilkinson County line by the end of this year.

WILKINSON COUNTY: The freeway will go north of Gordon, run seven-tenths of a mile south of the Baldwin County line and cross U.S. 441 in Wilkinson County not far from the U.S. 441-Milledgeville bypass.

All content© Copyright 1999
The Macon Telegraph

 Posted   06-27-99 - - - - back to Timeline