Forest Hill Road construction could start soon, but injunction is threatened

Bibb County officials have secured the last piece of property they need to start widening a stretch of Forest Hill Road, but an opponent of the project said he’s ready to put up legal roadblocks.

Van Etheridge, the county’s road improvement program manager, said the last section of right of way needed for widening Forest Hill Road was acquired June 29. Etheridge said the state plans to begin taking bids on that section, from Wimbish Road to Northside Drive, in October, with construction likely to start by the end of the year.

Lindsay “Doc” Holliday, who for years has fought government plans to widen Forest Hill Road, said the proposed three-lane section is unsafe and needs to be challenged in court. Holliday said he has a list of 1,000 supporters from across Bibb County, many of whom would help underwrite legal costs of seeking an injunction.

“We’ve got public sentiment, and we will be representing that public sentiment,” Holliday said.

Holliday and other members of a group known as Caution Macon have opposed Forest Hill Road plans on a number of grounds, including trees, roundabouts, speed and whether more traffic capacity is actually needed. Holliday said he plans to seek an injunction based solely on lane design and safety concerns.

He supports designs by one engineer, Richard Chellman, who proposed two road lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks. The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning two travel lanes and a turn lane, plus spaces for pedestrians and bicyclists for the section of Forest Hill Road between Wimbish Road and Northside Drive.

“Our road (design) can carry as much traffic as GDOT’s,” Holliday said. “The difference is GDOT’s will have faster traffic and unsafe turning motions at high speeds. Our issue is safety. That’s what we’re going to court about.”

Work on a southern section, from Wimbish to Vineville, isn’t expected for years. There, a four-lane section is planned.

Etheridge said Macon and Bibb County have put more than $3 million into engineering and buying the rights of way. Construction costs will be covered by state and federal agencies, he said.

A transportation plan estimates the construction costs of widening Forest Hill Road between Wimbish and Northside at $8.96 million, with the federal government picking up about 80 percent of the costs. A bridge at Sabbath Creek would cost an additional $366,000, according to estimates.

Construction of the four-lane section from Vineville would cost about $7.25 million.

Involved local groups including Macon City Council, the Bibb County Commission and Macon Area Transportation Study have rejected requests to revisit the Forest Hill Road plans. The local work has been funded through a 1994 sales tax, and attempts at mediation crumbled years ago.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.