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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 Valdostadailytimes.com Page 7A

    Guest Columnist

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, Atlanta-style wasteland.

  • 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 $ [Lowndes County]