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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 2:00pm

Route Change For Highway 411?

People in northwest Georgia have been waiting on an extension to Highway 411 for three decades. It would relieve congestion and create better access to Interstate 75. The state is ready to move forward. It would pay for the project with the new transportation funding sales tax that will be put to voters next year. But landowners defending their property are willing to sue to block it, so extending Highway 411 could require a new route.

For decades the Georgia Department of Transportation has been set on cutting through Dobbins mountain. It’s right in the middle of a proposed road to connect Highway 411 to Interstate 75. Right now, drivers from Rome have to go through Cartersville to make it to the expressway. And that means traffic. The new route would be a ride through the country. The trouble is, the dense forest of pines and oaks is not only home to deer, fox, and panthers, it’s the vacation home of the Rollins family that has the resources to block the road. Their most recent tactics include initiating a conservation easement of the property and trying to secure historical preservation status for its old manganese mines. They’ve also alerted federal wildlife protection officials of the potential disruption to the headwaters of the endangered Cherokee Darter fish habitat.

The family’s lawyer Henry Parkman says if that doesn’t stop the road…

“The ultimate weapon would be to file a lawsuit challenging the federal action; we’re trying to avoid that. We’re trying to get Federal Highway and GDOT to choose an environmentally friendly route but if they keep proceeding we’ll file a lawsuit,” says Parkman.

Another lawsuit isn’t good advertisement for the project. Voters might not approve the tax to pay for it if it’s in limbo. GDOT says it’s waiting on what the Federal Highway Administration has to say about the easement and historic site. And while GDOT says it’s not officially exploring an alternative, the minutes of a meeting between the two agencies in August reveal they’re considering another route.

Republican Senator Barry Loudermilk of Rome says the alternative would skirt the mountain by going north to connect to an existing road. The state wouldn’t have to blast through a mountain which he says makes it 100 million dollars cheaper to build.

“ If they do give approval to that my understanding is we can start construction as early as next summer. So knowing there’s going to be a lawsuit from the Rollins, we know it’s going to get tied up in court, so we could see the road happen quicker,” says Loudermilk.

But an alternative doesn’t sit well with House Representative Republican Katie Dempsey of Rome. She says a new route would begin the approval process all over again and put millions of dollars at risk.

“To step back on this begins a whole new process of new environmental studies, so there’s a whole new set of delays there. Another amazing fact about this we have I believe it’s 26 million dollars sitting in federal funding. That is another fragile element of moving forward on this,” says Dempsey.

But Loudermilk says Georgia won’t necessarily lose the money.

“In the past we looked at it, since that’s the only route the feds approved, if we don’t get that route we may have to start all over again. But what we’re getting from the federal government now, we may be able to just approve this alternate under the current plan,” says Loudermilk.

Regardless of the chosen route, Loudermilk says everybody needs to be on board -- lawmakers, the federal government, GDOT, and Governor Nathan Deal.

Although the governor advocated for the current route on the campaign trail, he’s says he has no preference on where the road goes as long as it gets built.

“ Well my concern is to get the project done. I’m not wed to a particular route. I think the main thing we’re concerned about is to start moving some dirt, get this road project started and hopefully have it completed as soon as possible,” says Deal.

One thing all parties do agree on – the road is crucial to the development of the region.

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