What is it going to take for Governor Nathan Deal and the leaders of the Georgia Department of Transportation to finally admit that the Macon to LaGrange highway is needed to relieve metro Atlanta of heavy truck traffic?
First we had “Snowpocalypse 2014” in January, when a multitude of 18-wheelers and other vehicles were stuck on frozen Atlanta highways and byways overnight. Then when a second round of freezing rain headed toward Atlanta in February, Governor Deal all but ordered tractor-trailer drivers to keep their big rigs out of metro Atlanta.
And now, last week there were at least two multiple truck accidents that tied up major interstates for hours. The first one occurred on March 12 on I-85 northbound, just north of Spaghetti Junction. Two tractor-trailers were involved, and one of the drivers was killed.
The second one happened on March 13 on I-20 in Douglas County. As one 18-wheeler slowed down for a weight station, a second one ran into the back of it. Two more tractor-trailers then ran into the first two, and I-20 west was completely blocked. No one was killed in the accident, but one truck driver had to be pulled from his burning cab by drivers who stopped to help, and he remains in serious condition.
That’s millions of dollars in damages and late deliveries caused by the clogged icy roads in January and February, and at least one family grieving the loss of a loved one, while another family hopes their loved one survives, all because the state has failed to recognize the need for the Macon to LaGrange highway.
Currently, trucks coming from the Port of Savannah have to travel up Highway 75 from Macon all the way to I-285 in Atlanta to stay on four-lane roads that can connect them with I-85 to points west. The Macon/LaGrange highway would allow them to get from I-75 to I-85 well before they reach Atlanta, saving them time, distance and money.
In addition, the four-laning of U. S. 27, which runs north and south near LaGrange and Columbus, from the Florida line to Tennessee, is almost complete. When it is done, truckers can head north to Chattanooga without coming close to Atlanta. And the Macon/LaGrange highway will cross U. S. 27 on its way to I-85.
Truck drivers are all in favor of this road being built. Truck drivers who have been interviewed lately have said that they hate having to drive through Atlanta. And speaking from someone who has had to drive through Atlanta with those tractor-trailers all around, I’m not exactly thrilled to see them there. Atlanta traffic is already congested, and the big trucks just add another element of danger to the situation.
Leaders of many of the communities along the proposed route, like Thomaston, are also in favor of the four-laned Macon to LaGrange corridor, because they feel it will bring an economic boost to the area.
Of course, not everyone is in favor of such a highway. At the Yatesville City Council meeting last week, one resident voiced her concern about the highway coming through and ripping Yatesville apart. But Mayor Cecil Moncrief assured her that just like a bypass around Thomaston is shown in the initial plans, the road will probably bypass Yatesville, too.
Regardless, despite the need for this road that is continually being demonstrated in Atlanta, we probably won’t see it built in our lifetime. The first thing that needs to be done is an engineering study, which could take three to four years to complete. Then to acquire the right-of-way and build the four-lane road from Macon to LaGrange would probably take another six to eight years to complete. So while this road will not help us now, it could greatly help both our children and grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of truck drivers and Atlanta drivers, in the future. But the state has to start now in order to make it happen then.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.