By Tracy Rogers
While many agree the 411 Connector could make life easier for motorists, plenty of questions remain about the road’s overly expensive price tag.
The Rome News-Tribune reported after adding “the preliminary engineering, right-of-way buys and utility relocations” the U.S. 411 Connector (Route D-VE) could cost taxpayers more than $272 million. If you notice, that is $89.6 million more than what GDOT regularly quotes as the cost of Route D-VE.
Even former State Transportation Board Member David Doss recently said in the Rome newspaper, “The $182.4 million construction cost of D-VE is problematic.” He stated, “The cost of this project, as it currently stands (in my opinion), is going to be an enormous hurdle to get over.” Doss also claimed, “GDOT can no longer afford to build roads of this magnitude.”
That is why GDOT insisted that the 411 Connector be included on the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) draft project list. Instead of using GDOT funds (which still come from state taxpayers), they are now going to rely upon residents of Bartow County and 14 other counties in Northwest Georgia to pay for the exorbitant cost of Route D-VE. GDOT is also counting on taxpayers from across the nation – thanks to the federal government – to pay for part of the road.
Nevertheless, engineers that work on behalf of Coalition for the Right Road have concluded that Route D-VE will cost nearly $280 million or a $182 million more than alternate routes (such as Route G.)
GDOT’s preferred route costs taxpayers substantially more because it requires the engineering and excavation of Dobbins Mountain. Route D-VE has twice the amount of expensive bridges and overpasses than alternate routes. Further, the route attempts to combine SR 20, US 411 and I-75 into a very costly and complicated interchange (with stop lights.)
It has also been reported that the price tag for the road could increase further.
In GDOT’s present estimate for Route D-VE, the agency is using a statewide, “unclassified” or “common excavation” average cost (per cubic yard) that it developed for the “typical” state road project. This means that GDOT’s cost estimate for Route D-VE assumes the cost to excavate Dobbins Mountain, which is in the middle of the route, is the same as it would be for excavation work to build a road in, say, Camilla, Ga.
The problem is, excavation to build a road in Camilla and many other parts of the state – where terrain is flat, made mostly of relatively soft dirt, red clay and earthen materials that can be hauled away easily – is far different and costs significantly less than excavating Dobbins Mountain, which is made of rock and might require blasting.
GDOT’s plans for Route D-VE actually require significant excavation work through Dobbins Mountain. As mentioned in the coalition’s previous blog post, the rock to be excavated at Dobbins Mountain is likely to be acid-producing. If GDOT opens up Dobbins Mountain and encounters acid-producing materials, all of that material will need to be hauled and treated to prevent acid runoff. Dealing with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of acid-producing rock will be very expensive, but GDOT has not factored that likely cost into its estimate. The excavation cost average for constructing Route D-VE through hilly/mountainous topography would cost substantially more than a road project in Georgia’s flatlands, especially if acid-producing rock is encountered.
Based on these findings, the $280 million estimate to build Route D-VE is very likely understated, and once GDOT calculates the actual cost of excavating and hauling the mountain and treating acid-producing materials, the price could jump by millions of dollars.
Yet, according to project documents, GDOT has not taken this noticeable disparity in excavation costs into consideration. And until they do, it appears state and federal taxpayers can expect to fork over more of their hard-earned money for the 411 Connector.