Proposed interstate through the Red Hills fails to gain Georgia DOT’s support

By Neil Fleckenstein, Planning Coordinator

An ambitious proposal to extend Interstate-185 through the heart of the Red Hills region has been scrapped by the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT). This project began in 2006 as an effort spearheaded by Chamber of Commerce officials in Albany, Georgia to extend Interstate-185 from Columbus, Georgia along the rural U.S. HWY 19 corridor through Albany, Camilla, Thomasville, and Monticello to Interstate -10 in Jefferson County, Florida. The stated purpose of the project was to spur economic growth in southwest Georgia by providing direct access to the U.S. interstate system. This route would have required the acquisition of significant right of way, the construction of many miles of access roads, and numerous overpasses and interchanges throughout the course of the newly created interstate. 
 
Tall Timbers has been an active and vocal participant throughout the more than two-year public review process for the Southwest Georgia Interstate Study. Tall Timbers has repeatedly questioned not only the need for interstate expansion in southwest Georgia, but also identified the potential for significant fragmentation of the Red Hills landscape with resulting adverse impacts to natural resources and rural land use traditions. We were not alone in our concern about this project. The City of Thomasville, Thomas County, the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce, and other communities along the proposed route all expressed serious concerns or outright opposition to this proposal.
 
After completing the two-year Southwest Georgia Interstate Study, Georgia DOT officials found that interstate expansion in southwest Georgia would be inconsistent with existing comprehensive land use plans; would have a negative impact on prime agricultural land, forests and cultural assets; and could have a detrimental impact on poverty and minority populations. Based on these factors, Georgia DOT has recommended not expanding Interstate-185 through the Red Hills or elsewhere in southwest Georgia. Obviously, Tall Timbers agrees with this recommendation. 
 
Georgia DOT instead will focus on improving several key corridors including State Road 133 between Albany and Valdosta. As Tall Timbers has important conservation interests along the State Road 133 corridor, we have requested that DOT provide us the opportunity to participate in the planning process for enhancing that roadway. Tall Timbers played a similar role in the expansion of U.S. HWY 319 in Leon County and was instrumental in working with landowners, assisting in mitigation opportunities, and helping to create a forested scenic parkway rather than just another four-lane divided roadway. 
 
For additional information about this or any other projects affecting the Red Hills, please contact TTLC Planning Coordinator Neil Fleckenstein at 850-893-4153, extension 335.  
 
 
A  Georgia Department of Transportation study determined that converting U.S. HWY 19 to a limited access interstate would have many adverse consequences.