An important deadline is upon us and I urge everyone who cares about Macon’s heritage and future to make the effort, futile as it might be, to once again express your opinion to our elected officials regarding the looming disaster of the I-16/I-75 interchange.
Public comments are being accepted online at the Planning & Zoning website until April 8 regarding the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan. Embedded in this document are plans to set aside more than half of the money spent on our region’s transportation funds for this one ill-conceived and overbuilt plan, thus eliminating funds for many other more locally-important projects.
The interchange, as it is now designed, will be slightly smaller than Atlanta’s notorious “Spaghetti Junction.” It will have enormous “fly-over” roads, which are one-lane-wide exit ramps which will actually rise into the air up and over the expanded interchange. I believe I have counted seven new bridges to be built in the delicate river flood plain.
This interchange is what road planners-gone-wild dream of in their most ambitious fantasies. And we, the citizens of Macon, will have to suffer the inconvenience of years of construction and a future of out-and-out ugliness.
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There are numerous reasons that have been put forth for this colossal waste of taxpayer money. The one that was used initially was that the interchange was deadly and unsafe. Statistics, those inconvenient facts, show there are few fatal accidents there and the interchange is not even in the top tier of unsafe roads in Middle Georgia. Then, the rationale for overbuilding the interchange was the increased traffic from the Port of Savannah once the new super-sized cargo ships arrive. The problem with this argument is while the cargo ships will be bigger than the current ones, there really won’t be a lot more freight because the freight is controlled by consumer demand, not the size of the ship that brought it. Unless the consumer demand is exponentially more, the amount of goods will not increase.
The other reasons for this insane design are based on similarly false criteria. Federal Highway has a “preference” for “no left exits” off interstates. This is not a mandate, but a preference. Some are considering the beginning of I-16 on I-75 South to be a left exit. It is not a left exit. It goes straight and I-75 South exits right. A really sad part of the reason is that some of our elected officials, like the ones in the 1960s who thought driving a wedge through the heart of Macon in order to bring I-75 through was a grand idea, see all of this taxpayer money being spent on the interstate as benefiting Macon.
It doesn’t and it won’t.
The interchange is being designed to carry traffic through Macon, not to Macon. If you don’t know where you are going in this new design it will be impossible to get into Macon without turning around and coming back. The construction jobs to build this thing won’t come from Macon and very little of the money will stay in the community, particularly once it is built.
In addition, what is really disheartening, is what this bad design will do to our beautiful town. Already we can see the lack of planning and dearth of aesthetics of this design by looking at the work already done on I-75 along Riverside Drive. The wholesale deforestation of the trees which separated neighborhoods from the concrete ribbon is typical. The unspeakably ugly sound barriers that have been erected along that stretch of the interstate are another indication of the lack of concern for our community.
Sound barriers have their merits, but they do not have to be ugly and they don’t have to be shiny, plastic-coated and desert brown. As someone said before, these things might be appropriate in the desert surrounded by sand and cactus, but look out of place in Georgia.
I urge everyone to express their opinions to P&Z. I also urge everyone to speak to your elected representatives. They still have the ability to get this interchange redesigned, made safer, more user-friendly, and more appropriate for our community. Frankly, with the upcoming elections, it would be a good litmus test for all candidates.
In my opinion, and in the opinion of many Maconites, any politician running for office who supports this design and doesn’t oppose it openly, should not get our vote.
James H. Webb is a resident of Macon.