ERICKSON: Shifting patterns in the Forest Hill fight

October 25, 2013 

Between Northside Drive and Old Lundy Road, Forest Hill Road has roughly 14 road intersections, not to mention countless driveways. It has always made sense to put in a turn lane in that section.

Between Old Lundy Road and Wimbish Road, Forest Hill turns very residential with only six road intersections: one with Lokchapee, one with Forest Hill Terrace, one with the entrance to an apartment complex, two directions to turn with Laura Ann Place, and one with Forest Wood Place.

The section between Old Lundy Road and Wimbish Road is mostly driveways, mostly forest and mostly peaceful. A center turn lane through that section has never made sense given the relatively low volume of turns in that area. Between Wimbish Road and Vineville Avenue, an expansion is needed to deal with serious congestion problems.

Nonetheless, it appears the battle is lost in the long-running war to fix Forest Hill Road. It was always going to be an overbuilt project, but it was never going to be as overbuilt as many claimed. As Macon has shifted north, traffic patterns have shifted. But the fight has lingered over Forest Hill Road and a desire to build it up for traffic projections from what is now long ago.

The road is crumbling in parts. It needs repair. Every time a cone appeared people assumed the road crews were about to roll. Lawsuits would be threatened, protests held and yellow caution tape draped through the trees. Bad blood flowed on both sides.

There were and are two chief problems. On one hand, many of the scare stories, complaints and claims from those opposed to the expansion of Forest Hill Road were exaggerated. As the fight wore on, the road got worse and many more people were willing to settle for a better road. On the other hand, the high handedness and mendacity of the outside consultants working with the Georgia Department of Transportation fed the fears of those opposed to the work.

The exaggerated claims of those opposed to the Forest Hill work would never have been conjured up if the GDOT and its outside consultants had not treated those affected by the project in such a high-handed way. The stories have shifted over time, as have the traffic patterns, but still the Forest Hill Road fight has remained.

Any exaggerations or misunderstandings of those opposed to the project can be readily understood by watching the shifting plans and traffic patterns. At the same time, and despite the unfortunate arrogance of some of the outside consultants, the level of incivility toward the GDOT throughout this has kept going up. There are ways to be firm without being a jerk, and many on both sides have failed basic civility. Both sides have created bad blood. Now one could hardly be surprised if the GDOT acts with a bit of extra spite than before.

The whole thing is rather unfortunate. Years ago I suggested Forest Hill Road be bulldozed, five-laned, and we move on. But after studying the problem, it became clear the project is being built for a traffic pattern that will never exist. It is also clear, though, that the proposed alternatives were never really feasible or reasonable. Ironically, in dragging out the fight, the residents of Forest Hill Road will have outlasted the shift of traffic north to Bass Road -- a project that any reasonable person should be able to agree ought to have vastly higher priority than what is left of Forest Hill Road.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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