I thought the icy weather last week brought up two interesting considerations, one that is more for the future of Thomaston and Upson County, and a second that is more immediate.
Counties between Macon and LaGrange, including Upson, are pushing the Georgia Department of Transportation to start an engineering study of a proposed four-lane highway that would run from Macon to LaGrange, with a bypass around downtown Thomaston. The corridor would be a huge benefit to truck traffic, as well as to the communities along the route. 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.
The Port of Savannah is in the process of widening and deepening its harbor, to allow even bigger cargo ships to dock. It is estimated that when the Port project is complete in two to three years, that the amount of truck traffic coming out and headed north to Atlanta will double or triple. If you think having to deal with big rigs on your way to Atlanta now is rough, wait until there are three times as many trucks on the road!
Plus, those ships that dock in Savannah don’t just unload and head back to wherever they came from empty. They are refilled with truck-carried containers from all over the South, which means you can count on just as many trucks headed south as north.
All of this demonstrates the need for the corridor. But what caught my eye last week was Governor Deal’s request that truckers stay out of Atlanta during the ice storm because of all the traffic problems they caused two weeks ago during the snow storm. Promoters of the Macon/LaGrange highway have been pushing for this since 2005. The engineering study will take two-three years to complete, and it will probably take six-seven years to actually build and complete the roadwork. If GDOT had started the engineering study in 2005 and the construction work in 2008, the highway would have been completed by now and the Governor would not need to beg truckers to steer clear of Atlanta!
On to the second consideration: I want to say a big thanks to all of the Volunteer Fire Departments who got out and worked during the snow storm two weeks ago, the ice storm last week, and all the other calls they respond to. These folks are not paid to do what they do. Instead, they do it out of a sense of responsibility and a love for their county, their communities, and their homes. It is a shame the Board of Commissioners don’t appear to share that sense of responsibility and love, since they have cut the VFD’s $500 a month checks.
Those checks don’t pay for much, usually just fuel costs for the VFD’s trucks, but they were the only financial consideration the county was paying in exchange for the services the volunteers provide in protecting property in the county from fire, responding to vehicle accidents, removing downed trees from roadways, etc. For the five VFD’s in the county, the Yatesville VFD in Yatesville, and the Thomaston Fire Department, which still has a volunteer firefighter component, the county was paying a total of $3,500 a month ($500 x 7) or $42,000 a year ($3,500 x 12). The average pay nationally for a firefighter is $43,645. In other words, if the county were to start its own paid fire department, it would pay more for one firefighter than it did for seven VFD’s, their volunteers, and their equipment. Sounds like a heck of a deal to me. But the county apparently doesn’t think so. Maybe the next time there is a fire, an accident, or a snow or ice storm, the VFD’s should stay home and let the Commissioners deal with it. Then maybe they would have an inkling of what they were getting for $3,500 a month.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.