Three Rivers Commission
Push begins for 'Export/Import Highway' between LaGrange, Macon
by SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The Three Rivers Regional Commission, along with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, is urging the Georgia Department of Transportation to complete a study on a new connector road linking LaGrange and Macon.
The project is known as “Georgia’s Export/Import Highway” and is being strongly pushed by Three Rivers, the planning agency that covers Coweta.
A presentation on the project was given at Thursday’s meeting of the Three Rivers Regional Council, held in Turin.
The highway, which would likely consist of upgrades of current roads with some realignment, would provide a link between the port of Savannah/Interstate 16, Interstate 75 and Interstate 85, and would provide direct access from Savannah to the Kia Plant in West Point. It would serve as part of a bypass around Atlanta, and would link to U.S. Highways 19 and 27. It would also provide access to Coweta through Georgia Highway 85 and Interstate 85.
The Export/Import Highway is seen as a major freight corridor, once the port of Savannah and larger ships start moving through the Panama Canal in 2015.
The highway was one of several projects identified by GDOT in the 2010-2050 Statewide Freight Study. Among all the projects identified, it has the highest return on investment, said Robert Hiett, governmental services director for Three Rivers. The highway is expected to bring significant economic development along the route, with an $11.3 billion economic impact and 2,738 new jobs.
The project is expected to generate $18 for every dollar invested. The estimated cost is $400 million, though that is a rough estimate as a specific route hasn’t been identified.
“Everybody Wins” is the tagline for the project. That was chosen “because this is the one project, along with the port’s deepening, that benefits the entire state and Metro Atlanta,” said Lanier Boatwright, Three Rivers executive director.
“It brings jobs and economic development to middle Georgia and it helps keep freight and truck traffic from increasing the estimated 300 percent on Metro Atlanta roads in the next few years.”
Getting GDOT to do the study is a major step in bringing the road to fruition. The study would identify the best route for the highway, and pin down cost estimates.
When the port expands, truck traffic on I-75 is expected to triple, according to Hiett. Motorists — and truck drivers — will want to get off congested I-75 if there is a better option. Currently, most frieght goes up I-75, to Interstate 285 and then down I-85 to get to LaGrange and the West Point area.
The Export/Import Highway could be “an effective, affordable Atlanta bypass,” Hiett said. “This suburban and rural area is where the affordable land is,” Hiett said. “It’s $400 million versus $1.9 billion to do something similar in Atlanta.”
The project will likely be too expensive to be built with just state, federal and local funds. There would need to be a “public/private partnership” or some form of limited toll access, Hiett said.
The GDOT’s current plan is not to build the highway until 2040, but it will be needed long before then, Hiett said.
Once the study is done, “we can start putting together partnerships to get it built,” Hiett said.
There is a website, www.GeorgiasExportImportHighway.com.
Plans are to add a “call to action” section on the website that will direct people to “how they can support the corridor,” he said.