As a group of residents who have worked tirelessly to find an alternate to the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) poorly conceived U.S. 411 Connector route, we are not sure whether to be angry or amused that supporters of Route D-VE are attempting to raise the specter of class warfare. While proponents in Rome have conveniently – and consistently – ignored the fact that shorter, cheaper and less destructive alternative routes exist, they now just want to nitpick at the fact that some of the landowners (whose land would be taken) happen to be wealthy.
But even name-callers can’t hide from the facts. There are thousands of concerned citizens and several environmental and historic preservation organizations who think Route D-VE is a bad idea. While the Coalition for the Right Road supports a connector between Rome and I-75, GDOT’s proposed Route D-VE remains excessively expensive and environmentally damaging. Projected to cost $214 million (over $100 million more than GDOT’s previous choice, Route G), Route D-VE might as well become the poster child for why thoughtful taxpayers should think hard before voting for the July 31 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST). Passage of the controversial T-SPLOST could allow the bureaucrats at GDOT to make even more financially wasteful choices – this time with several billions of dollars.
And whatever happened to good old-fashioned environmental stewardship – especially when there are viable, less environmentally invasive routes? The members of local chambers of commerce should realize that GDOT never completed all of its environmental work in the first place and more lengthy studies are being added to its list. Instead of opting for a different, feasible route, GDOT continues to drag out the process in what looks like an endless exercise in trying to save face.
Consider that GDOT has yet to demonstrate to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the massive excavation through Dobbins Mountain – which is likely to expose pyritic rock to weathering, thereby introducing acid drainage into nearby streams – would not be harmful to threatened species. As the agency wrote to GDOT in August 2011:
Our position remains that the [411 Connector] project is currently
not in compliance with the Endangered Species Act or the Fish and
Wildlife Coordination Act. In our discussions, the Federal Highway
Administration assured us that they will not authorize Federal funding
for the project until our office receives enough information to evaluate
the effects of the cut at Dobbins to aquatic resources and threatened
and endangered species.
Additionally, GDOT’s Route D-VE would destroy a 107-acre significant wildlife refuge recognized by the City of Euharlee and Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The wildlife refuge consisting of a contiguous hardwood forest provides habitat for many migratory birds and other animals, and for a diverse array of native plants.
Think this is insignificant? It’s not for any of the groups listed below – many of which are comprised of members who have studied this issue for years and written letters to GDOT opposing Route D-VE.
City of Euharlee
Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club
Georgia Land Trust
Georgia Conservation Voters
Georgia Wildlife Federation
Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation
Atlanta Audubon Society
Georgia Ornithological Society
Georgia River Network
Defenders of Wildlife
Georgia Native Plant Society
Georgia Botanical Society
As the Coalition for the Right Road, we are also bolstered by more than 3,000 everyday petition-signing people who are against Route D-VE and not likely to empower GDOT for more poor performances any time soon. What we would like to see is GDOT select an alternate route that saves taxpayers money, bypasses the current environmental hurdles and can actually get built.
Let’s get on with it, as the current path will only lead to many more years of study and legal challenges, and our region cannot afford it.