It’s hard to believe. Work has finally started on Forest Hill Road. A project first envisioned in the early 1990s, funded by the Road Improvement vote in 1994, and a source of controversy ever since, is getting underway.
For all its beauty, Forest Hill Road has been a thorn in the side of local leadership. The project has watched four mayors and four county commission chairmen come and go. Mayor Robert Reichert is the last city official standing in his new capacity as head of the consolidated government.
The original plan was to widen Forest Hill to five lanes. Residents along the road revolted. The project was one of the main contributing factors in the formation of CAUTION Macon, a group of concerned citizens that have made fighting unnecessary roads a life’s passion. That it has taken so long to begin work on the road is a testament to their dedication and persistence.
Not many remember the project that Forest Hill Road was an integral part: The Northwest Parkway. It was a patch of roads -- Northside Drive, Forest Hill Road, Park Street and Log Cabin Drive, that would have given shoppers a more direct route to the Macon Mall. For a time, Moreland-Altobelli, the firm supervising the $300 million in road projects approved by the vote, shifted blame for the Forest Hill Road section to the state Department of Transportation, saying the smaller footprint wouldn’t meet state requirements that would attract $6.8 million in state funds. As usual, leaders opted for the money.
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Through all of this, the traffic counts and particularly the traffic projected to travel Forest Hill Road has been the stuff of utter fantasy. The projections were delusional long before The Shoppes at River Crossing eliminated the need for the Northwest Parkway concept. In hindsight, the widening of Log Cabin Drive from Mercer University Drive to Eisenhower Parkway and Bloomfield Road from Eisenhower to Rocky Creek Road has been pretty much a waste. Though the widening did help attract the Presidential Parkway development and Sam’s Club at the intersection of Eisenhower Parkway and Log Cabin, there was no need to widen Bloomfield Road to Rocky Creek Road at the cost of millions of dollars in construction and right-of-way costs.
Now the design for Forest Hill Road will forever change the landscape of the area. Plans are to cul-de-sac The Prado and Overlook, forcing that traffic onto Ridge Avenue or the already crowded Vineville Avenue, that dangerous stretch of road with its suicide lane that none of the plans attempted to tackle.
While the project will bring millions of dollars to Macon-Bibb, the jury is no longer out. A project that could have fixed the issues everyone concedes exists along the road, has expanded in scope far beyond overkill.
Also left for dead is citizen trust -- from the Walter Kulash fiasco to ignored public input -- citizens are the losers here.