A new interstate could cut a swath through Middle Georgia, according to a federal study that details possible plans of a $7.7 billion route from Augusta to Natchez, Miss.
The report, released to The Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act, includes the prospect of an interstate highway cutting through the heart of Byron. The proposals for the 14th Amendment Highway also include reusing existing roads, including the Fall Line Freeway through Middle Georgia.
No funding for the federal route has been identified, and the Federal Highway Administration launched the study to meet a congressional mandate, and not on its own.
Yet the federal route also covers an area under study by state officials in the ongoing Connect Central Georgia study, which would better tie Columbus, Macon and Augusta through roadways. It also puts the federal government on record in support of Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s idea of a connector road across the Ocmulgee River south of Macon, from Avondale Mill Road to Twiggs County’s Sgoda Road.
Bob Rychel, regional mobility manager with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said even if the federal route is never built or funded, its ideas are likely to affect other transportation plans.
“It is a proposed project, so I think that any community that’s in its designated route would need to think about planning around that and in conjunction with that,” Rychel said.
The 14th Amendment Highway study looked at five different options for improving transportation from Augusta to Natchez. The minimum cost was cited at about $296 million, adding in a relatively few smaller pieces of roads to connect to existing highways. The three middle-priced alternatives would cost $1.4 billion to $3.8 billion. The $7.7 billion price tag is on the high end.
Several of those options would follow Reichert’s proposal for a Sgoda Road connector over the Ocmulgee River. The Federal Highway Administration said that project, with upgrades to Ga. 49 and Avondale Mill Road, would cost $456.9 million. State officials previously estimated the connector road alone at $178 million. No funding has been identified for any of that work, though a proposed regional transportation sales tax would put money toward studying the connector.
An earlier document prepared for Connect Central Georgia included a proposed route for “I-14” -- the name the federal 14th Amendment Highway is sometimes called -- that showed the interstate’s route apparently just south of Robins Air Force Base, through a well-developed area of Warner Robins. A Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman, Jill Goldberg, told The Telegraph that the route was provided by federal officials. State officials are using research by the federal agency, she said.
“There’s many, many things going across that part of the state, and they want to look at everything that’s done or in the works,” Goldberg said last month.
But the just-south-of-Robins route doesn’t appear in the final 14th Amendment Highway report to Congress. The routes all move closer to Macon.
Instead, the proposed routes include running a full interstate, with a 300-foot right of way, from Byron’s exit on Interstate 75 west through the city’s historic district. That interstate would then continue west toward Columbus, paralleling Ga. 96 to the south.
Don Tussing, a transportation planner with the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, said it’s highly unlikely that an interstate would ever be built through Byron in that manner.
“You probably couldn’t go through the center of Byron, especially if you had to do federal interstate design standards,” Tussing said.
Any interstate, if it were ever built, probably would be rerouted around Byron, Tussing said. But he also doubted whether the Federal Highway Administration would ever push an interstate it was ordered by Congress to study. With no money and little enthusiasm, the 14th Amendment Highway proposals are more likely to be incorporated into, or to influence, the state’s Connect Central Georgia plans.
The plans avoid cities east of Macon on the way to Augusta. A new interstate could be built from Ga. 57 most of the way to Augusta, tying into Interstate 20. Or the route could follow the Fall Line Freeway, from Ga. 57 to the Gordon Bypass, Ga. 243 to a proposed Milledgeville bypass, then on to Ga. 24 and Ga. 68 near Sandersville. The new interstate would cost about $2.05 billion. The roads that make up the Fall Line Freeway already are mostly getting upgraded, but other upgrades would cost about $221.5 million.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.