|Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Old 41 project is a dinosaur
By Barry Braun, MD, William Grow, MD, and John Gregory Odom
The three of us and our families would like to respond to the letter from
Dr. Young Tillman, whom we all know and like, in which he supports the
proposed four-laning of Old U.S. 41 between North Valdosta Road and Hahira.
As some may know, Dr. Tillman is one of our premier land developers,
responsible for several "ultra high-end" gated subdivisions in the northern
part of the County.
We are some of the 500 or so landowners and other concerned citizens who
have signed petitions asking the County Commission to stop this project,
which we view as a horrific waste of taxpayers' money, requiring the
irrevocable destruction of dozens of historic homes, churches, and family
farms. This four-lane project would change, forever, the character of this
whole end of the County-one of the few remaining areas where one can
actually enjoy a pleasant drive. We have not decided to oppose it lightly;
if this four-lane expansion were needed for safety, or to benefit the lives
of those living along it, we would gladly support it and donate land to
build it. But it is not needed, and it does not represent "progress" in any
way we understand that term.
- DOT's latest version. It's true that the latest DOT plan for
four-laning Old 41 does reduce the total width of the expansion as compared
to DOT's previous version. This spares a few more houses from being
actually bulldozed (some still have to go, "the price of progress") but the
latest highway ditch would still come within five feet of the front steps
of many homes and churches. There will still be a 24-foot-wide,
concrete-barricaded median akin to what we see on Bemiss Road, a solid
barrier with few "turnarounds". Those living alongside one of these
concrete barricades, who must drive a mile in the wrong direction, get in
the left-hand lane, turn into two lanes of traffic, and then backtrack to
drive all the way back past their homes just to go see their neighbor living
across the road, are not likely to view this as progress. All of this
amounts to the virtual destruction of a home, even if it is not actually
bulldozed, and there will likely be a good deal of expensive litigation
about the appropriate compensation to people whose property is thus grossly
damaged, but not outright destroyed. The elimination of every single tree
alongside the road will turn this beautiful country drive into a barren,
- Safety. There is no "safety problem" which is being cured by this
expansion; indeed, DOT's own survey shows Old 41 to be above average in
safety as compared to comparable roads throughout the State. Our own
County Sheriff has persuasively testified to the County Commission that he
drives this road virtually every day, and sees no safety need whatsoever for
this expansion. He further stated that many other roads in the County do
need attention, and some pose real safety concerns-but not Old 41.
Curiously, we have heard nothing from the superhighway's proponents about
the reduced safety likely to result from this four-lane expansion: first,
due to the inevitably higher speeds people will drive on such a bigger road,
and secondly, due to the undeniable fact of children having to play in a
front yard which would be part of the right of way of a four-lane highway,
literally five or ten feet away from speeding traffic.
Incidentally, it is our understanding that Bemiss Road has suffered more
accidents, and more fatalities, since it has been "improved".
- Traffic: not an issue. As all of us who drive the road frequently can
testify, there is no traffic problem on Old 41, apart from occasional
congestion at Valwood School, which could be much more easily resolved with
a turning lane there. Even Dr. Tillman acknowledges this when he admits
that the Old 41 expansion cannot be justified on the basis of current
traffic, but only by "looking into the future". As to the need to four-lane
Old 41 in the event (twice in the past twenty years) that I-75 traffic may
need to be re-routed to Old 41 in case of an accident on the interstate,
Sheriff Paulk has advised that the last time such a need arose, his
Department elected not to use Old 41, but instead re-routed traffic from
the North Valdosta Road exit by going west to the Hahira exit via Shiloh
Road, and found this actually easier and more efficient than using Old 41.
[Does this mean DOT needs to four-lane Shiloh Road, too?]
The past and the future. Dr. Tillman does not mention that, in addition
to our 500-plus citizens, the City of Hahira itself recently submitted a
letter to the County Commission and the DOT, asking that this project, in
its current form, be abandoned. This was obviously done after a great deal
of investigation and consideration of their citizens' views. Ironically,
this project was first actually requested by the City of Hahira back in
1991, after the Mayor and Council were persuaded by certain interests that
"growth over the coming years" in North Lowndes County would overwhelm our
road system. Seventeen years later, the expected growth has occurred, but
Hahira has observed that it has not in fact overwhelmed our roads. The City
fathers are to be commended for reversing a position that was ill-advised
to begin with, and one hopes the County Commission will have the political
courage to follow suit. There was no reason to listen to such interests
seventeen years ago, and there is still less reason to listen to them today:
for the Old 41 superhighway project is indeed a dinosaur, put on the books
in an era of $1.00 per gallon gasoline when it seemed easy to make multiple
trips to Valdosta for some routine errand or another, air conditioner
running all the way. That way of thinking is a thing of the past today.
With gas around $4.00 and climbing we are likely to see less traffic in the
years ahead, not more.
The money. To us, it is not appealing for people to wink and say that this
highway expansion would "only" be built by State and Federal money (which,
after all, is our money, too) and not by County money. Throw away $50
million here and $50 million there, and after awhile it starts to count up.
There is no such thing as a free ride; someone has to pay for this folly.
It is also misleading to suggest that this project would be some kind of
free ride for the County. The more intangible costs in lost convenience,
aesthetic appeal, environmental impact, and sheer joy of living here are
more difficult to calculate, but they are huge, and planners are
increasingly beginning to assign real dollar values to such things. No
conceivable public gain from having a new four-lane has been articulated to
offset these costs.
Support. It is interesting to note that the only supporters of this project
do not live on this road, have no family on this road and in no way would be
adversely impacted by its construction. Under the current DOT version a few
people make big money, without regard for the loss of others.
Conclusion. We close by saying the following to our friend Dr. Tillman,
with all respect: We are in no way opposed to the progress and future
development of our chosen community. What we support is the preservation of
a lifestyle and ask for alternatives to an otherwise unacceptable DOT
mandate that none of us who are directly affected can support.
Yours very truly,
Barry Braun, MD
William Grow, MD
John Gregory Odom
Last changed: $Date: 2008/07/30 22:48:52 $