New Interstate idea gets mixed reviews - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

New Interstate idea gets mixed reviews

December 14, 2006  

Albany -- The idea of extending Interstate 185 through South Georgia met with debate today. Proponents say it would bring money and growth, but opponents say small towns will miss out on any benefits.  

Currently, I-185 ends in Columbus at Ft. Benning. Proponents of the interstate extension want it to continue along Georgia 520 - U.S. 82, through Dawson, South to Albany where it will connect with Highway 19 to Tallahassee, and intersect I-10.

"There are so many opportunities for us to increase our economic development and growth and we're excited about it," says Rep. Freddie Powell Sims (D) District 151.

The hope is that the new corridor will bring growth, progress and money to this part of the state, just as I-75 has done in Tifton and Valdosta. Sims says, "There are lots of benefits from having 185 come through here. We're talking about increasing tourism, economic development, of course. It can benefit our base."

Another benefit? Reducing truck traffic along I-75, which is getting heavier every day. "Our studies only show that it's going to increase, yes, truck traffic is going up, not going down," says Angela Alexander, GDOT State Planning Administrator.

But there's also the fear that small towns in Terrell County will be crippled by the interstate, with even fewer people stopping to shop and spend time there. "If you're talking about limited access, then you're talking about a bypass around Dawson, around Parrot and around Sasser."

Towns that have benefited from Georgia 520-- which runs straight through them. When people spot businesses, they stop. But they wouldn't see them from an interstate says Representative Bob Hanner, whose district runs from Ft. Benning to Terrell County. "If it would be limited access, I'm opposed to it."

He isn't the only one. Yesterday, the chairman of the Thomas County Commission, Josh Herring, went on record as opposing the project, saying Thomas County already has three federal highways and doesn't need anymore.

A route hasn't been decided. As a matter of fact, a study is just now about to begin to figure out if an interstate would be right for Southwest Georgia.

And if it is, there's another problem--  getting the money to get it done.  "Any new roadway would have a challenge finding the funding. There are lots of good projects that are already in the program so new projects, no matter how good would have a challenge finding funding."

But that's a long way off. The study won't be finished for 18 months, and only then can planning truly begin. The study will take about 12 months to complete and will cost close to half a million dollars.

The DOT hopes to hire a consulting firm to begin the study by March.

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