What do Georgia’s Dobbins Mountain, a 100-acre wildlife refuge, a historic mine, the threatened and federally protected Cherokee darter, and the Nancy Creek and Pettit Creek watersheds have in common? They will be jeopardized or, in some cases, destroyed by the Georgia Department of Transportation’s proposed route (Route D-VE) for the U.S. 411 Connector, a controversial highway linking Rome, Ga. to Interstate 75.
The proposed design, Route D-VE, is expected to cost taxpayers more than $280 million, $25 million of which has been earmarked at the federal level by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.). The route is 2.5 miles longer than an alternate design, Route G, which costs $182 million less. It will also take considerably longer to construct and requires seven more expensive bridges and overpasses than Route G.
Route D-VE also attempts to combine U.S. 411, the heavily congested Ga. 20 and I-75 into an unnecessarily complicated, costly and dangerous interchange (with new stop lights). GDOT’s controversial route has thousands of residents in Cartersville, Ga., and surrounding cities worried about a myriad of issues.
GDOT trounced in court
One local landowner, whose 1,800-acre ranch and cattle operation is located in the path of the roadway, had stopped this route years ago. In 1993, federal Judge Robert L. Vining ruled that GDOT willfully ignored federal environmental statutes and proper condemnation procedures. In the ruling, the judge also noted that the landowner filed timely environmental concerns about the proposed route.
Further, Vining stated, “The land was endowed with natural beauty, natural resources, recreational value, and [is protected] from encroachment from development. The property was purchased with the intention of protecting its natural beauty through a planned community that would provide an aquatic wildlife habitat, green space and green belts.”
That is why the nearby city of Euharlee recently recognized the significance of the land by designating part of it as a 100-acre wildlife refuge, to preserve wildlife habitat and to enhance the survival of threatened species, such as the bald eagle and Cherokee darter.
Interestingly, GDOT’s own policy values contiguous forests of 100 acres or more for the benefit they provide to migratory birds and other species. Yet, the agency is still planning to build Route D-VE through the wildlife refuge.
Environmental concerns mount
Another mystery about GDOT’s Route D-VE is trying to understand why the agency wants to go through Dobbins Mountain, not around it as the feds did when planning I-75. GDOT plans to obliterate a significant part of the mountain by blasting an 800-foot-wide, 125-foot-deep gash in the Bartow County landmark. That is roughly equivalent in width to four 747s, sitting wingtip-to-wingtip, and in height to a 12-story building. Many are concerned that required blasting (for the massive cuts through the mountain) will cause acids to drain into streams and tributaries that have known populations of the threatened Cherokee darter; one cannot blast without exposing caustic materials to the elements.
GDOT board member David Doss has been quoted in the media as saying the proposed route for the U.S. 411 Connector is “the most engineered, studied piece of land in the state of Georgia.”
However, GDOT never took into account how the acid drainage might affect the Cherokee darter until residents raised such concerns earlier this year. In addition, it has been reported by local media that GDOT also failed to identify or study more than 1,000 feet of streams along the proposed route. Based on these findings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now requiring GDOT to complete the omitted stream and acid drainage studies.
Further, it was recently discovered that GDOT failed to fully study the historic value of Dobbins Mine, which dates to 1867. The 268-acre mining site was one of the state’s largest manganese mines and has several distinct features still intact, many of which would be destroyed by Route D-VE and its interchange at I-75.
Another area of concern to local residents is the costly, intensive excavation work needed to build the connector. According to GDOT’s calculations, Route D-VE requires the excavation of 5.1 million cubic yards of earth and rock because it is routed through Dobbins Mountain. To put the volume of the proposed Dobbins excavation into perspective, consider that 5.1 million cubic yards is more than the total amount of concrete (4.3 million cubic yards) used to build the Hoover Dam, one of the largest public works projects in U.S. history.
Alternatively, Route G, GDOT’s originally selected route in the 1980s, is significantly cheaper ($182 million less), 2.5 miles shorter, has minimal environmental impact and more closely follows the area’s natural topography. Also, the route has fewer bridges and overpasses and does not decimate a mountain, historic mine and significant wildlife refuge. Route G has an efficient, safe interchange at I-75 that requires no stop lights and can be built more quickly (see maps at right).
Obviously, this land has not been studied as extensively as GDOT would like the public to believe. It has also failed to justify the enormous additional expense ($182 million) and time to build Route D-VE instead of Route G — particularly in a recession — when nationally recognized traffic experts insist that the difference in travel time on the two routes (on a trip from Rome to Atlanta) is no more than 24 seconds.
It is apparent that the state, which continues to face severe financial issues, has no problem wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money on the more costly, longer route. Residents have been promised this road for several years and they deserve (and should expect) the cheapest, shortest and least environmentally impactful road from elected leaders and state officials.
Leslie Crawford is a regional leader of Coalition for the Right Road (CORR), an organization of Georgia residents committed to making sure the U.S. 411 Connector is built at the lowest cost to taxpayers with minimal environmental impact. For more information, visit www.coalitionfortherightroad.org or find CORR on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
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