Small victory in running battle over Forest Hill Road

August 9, 2013 

It’s not often the Georgia Department of Transportation hits a roadblock. It has a habit of declaring “Our way or the highway.” As is its custom, GDOT proposes plans that are huge in scope. Many would say the department super sizes roads to maximize contractor profits. Politicians, seeing money coming into their communities, usually roll over to GDOT’s wishes.

Opponents of the Forest Hill Road project -- a battle that’s been going on even before the passage of the Road Improvement special purpose local option sales tax in 1994 -- have stuck to their guns and won another skirmish.

Wednesday, members of the Macon Area Transportation Study committee voted 8-7 to remove Forest Hill Road from the state’s Transportation Improvement Program that covers the next four years. Nothing is settled of course. One of the lead opponents, Lindsay Holliday, has taken GDOT to court and while resolution of the lawsuit may settle some of the issues, it is unlikely GDOT and the neighborhood will ever see eye-to-eye.

Both sides agree that Forest Hill Road needs improvement, but that is where agreement ends. Over the years, even the basis for improving Forest Hill Road has changed. The department has fudged on traffic counts and used other devices to justify its plans for widening the road. Once a part of a grand scheme to link the north side of town with the Macon Mall, that need is no longer a pressing issue. Don’t tell that to GDOT.

What will eventually happen? It’s anyone’s guess. This community may still be talking about Forest Hill Road 20 years from now. There seems to be more evidence for just leaving the road alone than moving forward with GDOT’s expansive plans.

Another road dispute involves the Interstate 75/Interstate 16 improvement projects. The vote also moved those projects from the state’s short-range programs for fiscal years 2014-17. The initial designs were more akin to an Atlanta highway than one bordered by the Ocmulgee River and neighborhoods.

The cost, as it sits now, is enormous. GDOT has bounced the project to its long-term list before, and with the lack of funds, along with the defeat of the T-SPLOST, it may stay there for a while. The delay could be a huge problem. Interstate 16 is a direct artery for goods arriving at Savannah’s port. That traffic will certainly increase as the port gets ready for the new fleet of supersized cargo ships. The I-16/I-75 interchange is already a safety hazard and will become more so if an acceptable design can’t be worked out.

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