OEDEL: Beyond border war

February 17, 2013 

I wrote last week that Monroe and Bibb counties might be smart to settle their border war now. I realistically expect, though, that Monroe will have to wait for Georgia’s Supreme Court to deliver bad news about Monroe’s attempt to recruit a Fulton County judge to boss around Secretary of State Brian Kemp, and for the next staggering legal bills from King & Spalding, before Monroe gets settlement religion.

But when Monroe and Bibb eventually do settle, as they likely will in the end, what will they do with their spare time?

Turns out, there’s a surprising amount that these counties could do together if they’d just quit fussin’ with each other. Though I’m normally no fan of supersizing interstates, these particular counties could join in meaningfully improving their shared interstates.

Usually, it’s another matter. For instance, a story in The Telegraph recently revealed that the $300 million “upgrade” for the Interstate 75/Interstate 16 interchange couldn’t do much to improve its safety, and will if anything, be counterproductive by that measure. Of the 18 traffic fatalities in Bibb in 2012, not a single one was at that interchange.

Likewise, it’s overkill to be building 11 lanes of carrying capacity between Arkwright and Pierce (counting Riverside) at a cost of over $50 million. That stretch will rival Atlanta’s connector in scale, for an area with less than four percent of Atlanta’s population, while much through traffic uses Interstate 475. Except for the improved exits, it’s another waste.

But not all possible interstate projects are created equal. The northern I-475/I-75 interchange is ripe for transformative change.

The concept is simple. We shift a share of those interstate millions to make the northerly junction of I-475 and I-75 really work as an interchange so that you can go south on I-475 when approaching from I-75 north, and go south on I-75 when approaching from I-475 north.

It would be a game changer.

It would make those interstates serve local interests both in Monroe and Bibb, not just through traffic.

It would help facilitate impressive growth in Bolingbroke and other Monroe locations, while also creating lots of new opportunities for northern Bibb.

The whole south Monroe/north Bibb area would bloom.

Instead of squabbling over tax scraps from Bass Pro, together, Monroe and Bibb would be getting I-475 northbound customers for Bass Pro, and giving a reason for the rest of the nearby parcels to get developed.

We’d open up Bolingbroke and environs for easier access to Macon.

We’d transform I-475 and I-75 into something more than racetracks to Atlanta and Florida.

We’d enhance accessibility for easterly patrons of Zebulon businesses without forcing those patrons to snake along Bass Road.

We’d create a real Middle Georgia beltway.

Working together, Bibb and Monroe could actually help make such a plan come to life for their mutual benefit.

So why wasn’t this obvious improvement made long ago? It’s partly because these counties are thinking small-mindedly, for instance, by preoccupying themselves with their petty border dispute.

But it’s also a problem fostered by artificial legal determinations. Macon’s municipal transportation planning organization, the Macon Area Transportation Study, or MATS, doesn’t technically include that interchange within its jurisdiction. So MATS just ignores it, meanwhile hoarding all the available dollars to spend on much less useful projects within its technical jurisdiction, like the I-75/I-16 interchange.

Monroe, meanwhile, relies on Georgia’s Department of Transportation to do its thinking about the interstates. That’s a big mistake, because GDOT has little appreciation for Monroe’s (and Bibb’s) particular interests in making the interstates work for the local people. GDOT is thinking more about travelers blowing through Monroe and Bibb County.

So I bring good news. There really can be life after the border dispute. In any event, as Secretary Kemp learned, it’d be hard to ever really know the truth about where a particular ferry, one of several in the 1820s, marked one end of the Bibb/Monroe line.

Can’t we all shift our focus to modern transportation matters for a change?

Dave Oedel is a resident of north Bibb County, and teaches transportation law at Mercer University Law School.

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