State: Forest Hill Road lawsuit is in appropriate, unlikely to succeed

mstucka@macon.comJanuary 22, 2013 

The Georgia Department of Transportation wants the courts to throw out Lindsay “Doc” Holliday’s efforts to stop a Forest Hill Road widening.

In documents filed in Bibb County Superior Court, state officials said Holliday can’t sue them, that they haven’t done anything wrong and that Holliday is trying to stop what the public has wanted for decades.

“City, county, and GDOT officials have bent over backwards to try to satisfy the community’s concerns,” wrote Denise Whiting-Pack and Mary Jo Volkert, senior assistant attorney generals.

Holliday “just will not be satisfied” until the project is “completely thwarted or his alternative plans are used,” they wrote. “What about the citizens of Macon who have been heard and responded to?”

Holliday said in a Monday e-mail to The Telegraph he had just begun analyzing the state’s filings and wasn’t ready to respond with a comment.

The state’s lawyers note Holliday is the only plaintiff in the lawsuit, but the road widenings have attracted strong opposition from individuals and members of the CAUTION Macon group.

The state already has accepted a bid of $8.4 million to widen Forest Hill Road to three lanes between Wimbish Road and Northside Drive. A four-lane section, from Wimbish Road to Forsyth Road, is still on the drawing boards.

In their response to Holliday’s lawsuit, state officials say the state has to have exceeded its discretionary authority to be sued, and it hasn’t done so. Holliday also didn’t properly serve the lawsuit to the agency and can’t sue on grounds of potential future environmental harm, the state’s attorneys said.

Holliday sought a temporary restraining order, saying the road widening would cause “irreparable and immediate harm” if tree cutting began. More silt would also wash into nearby streams, polluting them, he said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation response to the lawsuit said “the law and facts are so adverse to (Holliday’s) position that a final order in his favor is unlikely.”

The state also noted the widenings were originally proposed in 1983 by then-Macon Mayor George Israel and were part of a sales-tax referendum passed in 1994. After criticism in a public hearing in 2001, the projects were revised in 2002, and later presented again in 2005. Mediation failed in 2008, according to an account by Van Etheridge, who manages Bibb County’s Road Improvement Program.

Etheridge wrote in an affidavit, “There were 404 accidents along the road from 2004 through 2010 -- 64% were from rear-end collisions and left turns.”

Construction of the three-lane section is expected to be completed by March 2017.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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