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Historic farm structure state DOT tried to save torn down

Several years ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation changed its plans for the coming interchange at Interstate 75 and Sardis Church Road to protect an historic farmstead already split by the interstate.

The new plan is more expensive and requires the DOT to move or demolish five more homes than the original proposal. But the farm’s owner has since torn down one of the buildings the DOT was trying to protect, and he plans to demolish or move other historic buildings to make way for commercial development.

In the end, south Bibb County farmer and developer Oney Hudson will be able to develop more of his family’s land on either side of I-75 because his land won’t have exit ramps running through it. But the farm that the department went out of its way to protect will be gone.

Neither Hudson nor his family asked the DOT to protect the farmstead, according to DOT spokesman David Spear. And though regulations protecting historic properties limits what the department can do with them, it doesn’t limit the owner.

But with federal money paying for most of the new interchange at Sardis Church Road, an historic review was just part of the standard operating procedure for the DOT, Spear said. Other historic properties farther east long the highway’s new path, which will be wider than the current two-lane road, were also discovered and the road plan was shifted accordingly.

The Hudson farm qualified because it was a surviving farmstead with at least two buildings dating back to 1890, according to the state’s report on the area. The homes and barns on the land were representative of various architectural styles from their time periods, the report states.

So instead of building traditional diamond interchange ramps on the north side of Sardis Church Road and slicing through the two halves of the 150-acre farmstead, the department decided to build a cloverleaf interchange. Now all four exit ramps will be on the south side, with two of them looping around in a circle.

The regulations prohibited the DOT from tearing down the structures on Hudson’s farm for the interchange unless there’s “no feasible and prudent alternative,” said Amanda Schraner, transportation projects coordinator for the state’s historic preservation division.

“A lot of the neighbors around here accused me of declaring this place history,” Hudson said recently, standing near an old potato barn. “I agreed to a diamond interchange.”

Others involved with the project, including local Moreland Altobelli engineer Van Etheridge, confirmed that.

“The owners really have nothing to do with it,” Etheridge said.

Going with the cloverleaf design forced the DOT to buy more homes on the south side of the road, and those homes will either be moved or demolished, according to the contractor hired to dispose of them. The DOT already has bought the homes, and they were vacant this month.

Since the diamond interchange plan never got far enough along for a hard cost estimate to be developed, it’s difficult to compare construction costs for the Sardis Church Road interchange.

But generally speaking, cloverleaf interchanges are more expensive to build than diamond interchanges, Spear said.

The cost of purchasing the land needed for the project is also greater for the cloverleaf design in this case. The estimated rights-of-way costs for a diamond interchange at Sardis Church was about $1.3 million in 1998. The project would have impacted 26 properties and required three residences to be demolished or moved.

In 2001, the DOT estimated costs for the cloverleaf interchange at about $2.74 million.

The number of properties impacted jumped to 32, eight of them residences to be demolished or moved.

Actual rights-of-way costs for the interchange project weren’t immediately available. Construction of the interchange is supposed to begin late this summer, but there’s a “high probability” that will change due to the DOT’s funding problems and other issues, department spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan said.

Eventually, the new interchange will connect to a rerouted and widened Sardis Church Road, which will be extended to Ga. 247.

Though there are no concrete plans to extend the road further, there is a proposal to continue the road to Interstate 16, connecting at the Sgoda Road exit.

To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.

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