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3rd Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study

Third Meeting of the Expert Working Group

March 8, 2011, 1pm-4pm
FHWA GA Division Office, Atlanta

Attendees:

Non-Federal EWG Members

Federal EWG Members

Augusta-Richmond Co. PC (remote)
Cleveland MPO (remote)
Coastal Region MPO (remote)
Georgia DOT (remote)
Knoxville Regional TPO (remote)
North Carolina DOT (remote)
Tennessee DOT (remote)
WaysSouth

Appalachian Regional Commission (remote)
Eastern Federal Lands
EPA Region 4, NEPA and Wetlands
FHWA GA Division, HQ, NC Division (remote), Resource Center (Remote), and TN Division (remote)
National Park Service
US Army Corps of Engineers (remote)
US Fish and Wildlife Service (remote)
USDA - Forest Service

Project Team

FHWA HQ
ICF International
Wilbur Smith Associates

Greeting and Introductions

The third meeting of the Expert Working Group for the Third Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study was held on March 8, 2011, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at the FHWA Georgia Division office in Atlanta. The purpose of the meeting was to review and discuss the four study corridors that were developed and presented in the Draft Alternatives Report; discuss the environmental constraints, fatal flaw screening, and design levels; and to present the project team's preliminary recommendations for which study corridor(s) to carry forward into the next task of preparing costs and steps to complete. The following is a summary of discussion topics, questions, and comments.

John Mettille, Project Manager for the ICF Team, opened the meeting and welcomed participants, who then went around and introduced themselves. The majority of the EWG members participated by remote access.

The meeting started with review of the overarching principles; what the study is and isn't; and a recap of the second meeting. The second meeting focused on the updated study area, control points, public involvement plan, and illustrative corridors.

Study Corridors

Following the recap of the previous meeting, study corridors were discussed. The project team was originally tasked with developing four corridors between Savannah and Lavonia, five from Lavonia to Knoxville, with at least one Interstate-level design option. Four study corridors were developed based on avoidance of major environmental features and on EWG input on the illustrative corridors. The main components of the four study corridors (A, B, C, and D) were highlighted for the EWG.

Corridor A

The southern portion of Corridor A (Savannah to Lavonia) tries to use as much of the existing Savannah River Parkway/US 25 as possible. There are some new location segments, including a bypass around Millen and a new link west of Augusta between I-20 and US 25. The northern portion (from Lavonia to Knoxville) follows the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) boundary as much as possible, and includes new location segments from I-75 to US 411 and from Dahlonega to I-85.

An eastern option was developed in collaboration with project team designers, following I-75 to Sweetwater, SR 68 through the national forest, and SR 60 at the state line to Dahlonega, Georgia.

Corridor B

The southern portion of Corridor B follows SR 21 out of Savannah, with a Bypass option to avoid SR 21 congestion, based on EWG input. Corridor B north goes through national forest land and along the western boundary of GRSM, links to the Appalachian Development Highway System's Corridor K, and allows for a possible connection to Corridor C.

Corridor C

The southern portion of Corridor C follows either the Savannah River Parkway/US 25 (Corridor A), the Savannah River Parkway/SR 21 (Corridor B), or the SR 21 Bypass corridor (Corridor B Bypass) from Savannah, and passes through the Cherokee reservation. The corridor uses US 441/Newfound Gap Road through the park (for approximately 20 miles), and avoids Sevierville congestion by creating a link on new alignment.

Corridor D

Corridor D follows US 321 and existing interstates. It avoids the geotechnical issues associated with I-40 by using US 25 at Newport. It also includes a potential new route through Asheville because of the controversy and congestion.

Corridor Comparison

John Mettille presented a comparison of the corridors in terms of the percentage of existing alignment that each one uses, as well as the transportation network constraints. Corridor D is entirely on existing alignment. Corridors A, B, and C all have some new location segments.

  1. Lewis Grimm (EFL): There is an obvious blank (in the table in the PowerPoint presentation) under transportation network for Corridor C (south).

John Mettille (ICF Team): That information will be added to the alternatives report.

Environmental Constraints

Major environmental features were avoided as much as possible in development of the corridors. These environmental constraints include protected federal and state lands, particularly wilderness areas; geology and geotechnical issues, particularly the challenging terrain in northern portion of the study area and areas prone to landslides; and socioeconomics and environmental justice potential.

Protected Lands and Major Features

Protected land constraints include national forests, the Savannah River Plant, Army bases, lakes and rivers, major population centers, and sensitive threatened and endangered species habitat. Density of protected lands in the northern portion of the study area is higher than in the southern portion. There are more resources and unique features in the north, and the team tried to avoid as many as possible in developing the corridors.

John Mettille presented a comparison of the corridors in terms of park impacts, distance in national forests, and wilderness/wildlife zones. In the southern portion, parks are adjacent to Corridors A, B, and C; the extent of impacts depends on the design level and will be evaluated in more detail. Wildlife management areas/refuges are adjacent to corridors in the south. The density of protected lands is higher in the northern portion, especially with Corridors B and C. Corridors C and D in the north cross a number of black bear sanctuaries, which restrict new roadway mileage. Again, the team tried to avoid these resources as much as possible.

  1. Jim Grode (WaysSouth): There is inconsistency in the alternatives report for Corridor A – text says adjacent to forest, appendix says within; need to check wording.

Rebecca Thompson (ICF Team): Corridor A skirts the park, except for one part near Chatsworth. However, these are mile-wide corridors, with room for refinement.

Features that could be involved, e.g., water features, lakes, rivers, etc., were presented for each corridor. Corridor D (south) does not intersect the Augusta or Lavonia control points. There are a large number of resources in Corridor B in the northern section. Corridor C involves the Cherokee Reservation.

Terrain, Karst Features, Landslide Potential

The corridors were compared in terms of the geology and geotechnical issues; maps depicting terrain, karst features (caves, fissures, etc), and landslide susceptibility were presented. The southern portion of the study area is level, while the northern portion presents substantial terrain and elevation challenges. Newfound Gap Road uses the lowest elevation passage crossing north-south through the park; however, we are looking for a better way through the mountains. Corridor C has the worst/most aggressive terrain challenges.

Karst features over 1,000 feet in length are prevalent in the northwestern portion of study area; the southeast portion has a lot of smaller karst features, but also wetlands and low lying areas.

Areas of high landslide susceptibility and frequency, such as where I-40 is located, are indicated in red on the landslides map. All corridors cross high susceptibility areas, but Corridor A to a lesser extent than the others.

Socioeconomics

The highest concentrations of low-income, economically distressed, and minority populations in the study area are found between Savannah and Augusta.

Potential Fatal Flaws

GRSM impacts, mountainous terrain, missing control points, and strong public opposition have been identified as potential fatal flaws for the corridors.

Impacts to GSMNP

Corridors A and D avoid the park, Corridor B runs along 11 miles of the western border on US 129, and Corridor C passes through the park for 20 miles along US 441. To emphasize the challenges of going through GRSM, two historical projects that were reduced or cancelled were discussed. 1) Resurfacing of Newfound Gap Road with proposed turn lanes into the campground - turn lanes were not included because of environmental and design constraints. 2) North Shore Road, which was supposed to be constructed in 1939 - engineering and environmental issues led to cancellation of proposed project.

Mountainous Terrain

Corridors B and C involve sections with elevations over 5,000 feet.

Missing Control Points

Corridors A, B, and C hit all control points. Corridor D misses the Augusta and Lavonia control points.

Strong Public Opposition

Public opposition is likely for any of the four corridors in the northern section, particularly the corridors that impact GRSM (Corridors B and C). EWG input stated that the team shouldn't pre-aggravate the public; the team recommends only the least controversial corridors move forward for further analysis to develop planning-level cost estimates.

The EWG was asked if there are any other potential fatal flaws that should be considered.

  1. Jim Grode (WaysSouth): Not sure if it's a fatal flaw, but acid-bearing rock is another geologic issue, and there is a significant amount throughout the southern Appalachians. It impacts stream habitat, causes fish kills. Also, prohibition of commercial traffic through the GRSM park is an issue; if the road serves a commercial purpose, the law/policy would have to be changed.

  2. Kent Cochran (NPS): A major parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, has the same cultural/historic resource issues as Newfound Gap Road. The 20 mile estimate in the comparison table seems inaccurate; the mile points of the road are approximately 31 miles through GRSM.

John Mettille (ICF Team): The corridor is straight, and doesn't account for loopy roads, which may account for the mileage discrepancies.

Design Levels

The discussion moved on to the corridor design levels. At least one corridor in each segment has to be designed to Interstate standards; one has to use substantial existing alignment; and at least one has to be outside of GRSM. Interstate level includes 4 to 6 lanes, grade-separated interchanges, and can use tunnels or viaducts. Arterials are 4 lanes with at-grade intersections. A Super-2 Highway has 2 to 3 lanes, at-grade intersections, and truck climbing/passing lanes. All design levels were kept on the table because of the mile-wide corridor, all design levels could apply.

  1. Lewis Grimm (EFL): A number of sub-segments of corridors are using the route already designated the Savannah River Parkway; if it's proposed as a 4-lane rural as opposed to Interstate, would the two blend, would we downgrade to a Super-2, or upgrade the rural to Interstate? This would affect cost estimates; the team needs to look at existing/planned design levels.

Martin Weiss (ICF Team): On any given alignment, with the exception of Interstate, there could be multiple design levels. For example, one could have an alignment with a certain design, and the same alignment with a different design, which would be two different alternatives for steps and cost to complete. Also, design can change along the alignment; it doesn't have to be one level along the entire alignment (with the exception of the one that has to be Interstate level). Mixing and matching alternative corridors and design levels that occur within them is possible.

Preliminary Fatal Flaw Screening

A preliminary screening and comparison of the potential fatal flaws for each corridor was provided in a summary table, shown below. Based on EWG input, the Blue Ridge Parkway, pyritic rock, and truck traffic issues need to be added to the screening. Anything is technically possible, but the report would include what steps need to be done to allow trucks through park, which would be very difficult.

Corridor GSMNP Impacts Terrain Control Points Crossed Public Opposition
A No Moderate 4 Likely
B Maybe Aggressive 4 Likely
C Yes Extremely Aggressive 4 Likely Strong
D No Aggressive 2 Likely Strong

Preliminary Recommendations

John Mettille presented the project team's recommendations for consideration by the EWG of which corridor should be carried forward for preparation of steps and costs to complete in the project's next task.

North of Lavonia – Corridor A Western Option, Interstate design level (could have combination of design levels for cost estimate)

South of Lavonia – Corridor A, B, or B Bypass, Interstate or arterial (combination)

  1. Jim Grode (WaysSouth): Since no purpose and need has been stated, and if, as the name suggests, honoring the 3rd Infantry Division is part of the purpose, we should consider a no-build/signage-only alternative (signage would honor 3rd Infantry).

John Mettille encouraged the EWG to take some time to review the alternatives report and provide additional recommendations or comments.

  1. Daniel Sellers (NCDOT): I agree with Jim's signage-only recommendations, because of the public opposition, and resources.

  2. Jim Grode (WaysSouth): I'm confused as to the purpose of the Draft Alternatives Report Memo: is it intended to be a memorandum that informs, and will flow into the final Report to Congress? Final report should include several things that are missing. Instead of recommending further study is necessary, say if Congress deems further study is appropriate, then further study would be incorporated. If other alternatives are so ridiculous they wouldn't be taken to the final report.

John Mettille (ICF Team): This report is a recommendation for the next task, a recommendation for one of the alternative corridors for which steps and costs to complete can be prepared, that will feed into the final report.

  1. Jamie Higgins (EPA): So we will get the opportunity to comment on a final report? I was under the impression early on that since no DOT or MPO is sponsoring, that we were going to recommend no further alternatives move forward.

Martin Weiss (ICF Team): All that Congress requires per the statute is the steps and cost to complete, no recommendations. Recommendations on what if anything to do next, following the Report to Congress, will go to FHWA who administers the money (not to Congress).

  1. Mark Wilkes (Coastal Region MPO): I do not have a copy of the alternatives report.

  2. Greg Thomas (Cleveland MPO): I also did not get the report.

John Mettille (ICF Team): The report was sent out last week, we will resend it to the EWG. Will two weeks be enough time to review?

  1. Jamie Higgins (EPA): I don't understand what this report is, if there is another final report coming, I don't want to spend time reviewing this one.

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): This is an interim step to getting to the final report, to identify the alternative for which to prepare cost estimates.

  1. Ralph Comer (TDOT): Looking back at the email, everything in the report is in slides, except for the last few slides of recommendations for next task.

John Mettille (ICF Team): That is correct; we wanted input from the EWG before including any recommendations in the alternatives report.

  1. Loretta Barren (FHWA NC): Can we get a copy of the presentation? The summaries are better in the presentation. Is the cost estimate going to be based on design details, or just the corridor?

John Mettille (ICF Team): It will follow FHWA's Major Project Program Cost Estimating Guidance.

  1. Lewis Grimm (EFL): Wouldn't you lay out all of the phases in project development, e.g., first you have to get the project into some plan/program (statewide multi-modal plan).

John Mettille (ICF Team): It will include the planning steps required before construction.

  1. Jamie Higgins (EPA): Congress could say ok, let's move forward with Corridor A.

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): Congress has directed money to projects that never get built. States retain decision-making ability on what to include in plans and programs.

  1. Jamie Higgins (EPA): What if states decide to take it up, move to TPR, NEPA - why not just recommend none of the corridors move forward?

    John Mettille encouraged the EWG to review the alternatives report/memo if possible.

Next Steps

The EWG will provide comments on the Alternatives Report, the ICF team will provide a meeting summary, and the next tasks will begin (additional GIS/cost estimates/steps).

Public Involvement Update

John Mettille informed the EWG that four letters have been received from interested groups asking for public meetings. The letters indicated locations where the groups would like to see meetings held, and that the groups would like to see the final report. John asked for ideas from the EWG on how to solicit public input, are there other ways besides meetings, e.g., meeting in a box. The URL of the project website will be emailed to the EWG.

  1. Jamie Higgins (EPA): If you are making a recommendation to Congress for Corridor A, need to have public involvement.
  2. Steve Luxenburg (FHWA GA): We may want to reconsider going to the public about a highway project that may or may not ever move forward.
  3. Jamie Higgins (EPA): But it could move forward.
  4. Elizabeth McMullen (USFS): Would the alignment be included in the final report?

John Mettille (ICF Team): Yes.

  1. Kent Cochran (NPS): Does the Report to Congress have to include an alignment with the costs?
  2. Loretta Barren (FHWA NC): If we are going to public, we need to be very sure of what we're doing. Congress asked for costs to construct a potential route. We need to find a way to develop a planning level estimate, that doesn't single out one corridor.
  3. Kevin Adderly (FHWA HQ): We're looking at how to put our report (for the 14th Amendment Highway study) together; we have multiple corridors, multiple costs. We're doing napkin estimates of various corridors, not one particular corridor.

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): Our situation is different, because does it really make sense to expend effort and resources to generate cost estimates for C and D, which have fatal flaws that couldn't be overcome?

John Mettille (ICF Team): Because of all the issues, why prepare cost estimates for those with fatal flaws?

  1. Jim Grode (WaysSouth): Will the report show all corridors but just costs for one, or just the one alternative with costs?

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): The former, the report will show everything, what makes sense and doesn't, and only provide costs for those that aren't ridiculous. Back to the public involvement, the website has been very problematic, but is going live today. This is one public outreach tool we have so far.

  1. Lewis Grimm (EFL): Are there examples from the most recent STIP public involvement efforts? Statewide plans are approached differently because of the large area, and may be a more appropriate level of involvement for this study. We will have x numbers of meetings, here's where we are in the study process, etc.
  2. Steve Luxenberg (FHWA GA): This differs from statewide plans and TIPS in that there is at least some level of buy-in for those projects, whereas there is no support for this project. We may cause undue concern and open a can of worms.
  3. Jamie Higgins (EPA) and Jim Grode (WaysSouth): The can of worms is already open.
  4. Jamie Higgins (EPA): There may actually be public support.

Martin Weiss (ICF Team): What is the value added of a public meeting versus the cost of a meeting?

  1. Steven Luxenberg (FHWA GA): What did you do on the SR 99 project in California?

Martin Weiss (ICF Team): In CA, people generally wanted to upgrade the road. Local meetings have been held for over 20 years, incorporated with general meetings, e.g., county commission meetings. Our study would be better compared to the transcontinental Maglev or superhighway or the Kansas City to Chicago Expressway, which people generally knew there was no funding for and benefit/cost ratios showed it was not economically feasible. These did not have public meetings. Another multistate project was the first feasibility study for the I-69 corridor which did have a benefit/cost analysis but did not have a public meeting. The second study did have one public meeting but by then there was interest among the States in completing portions of that corridor. We will not have benefits for our studied sub-corridors (i.e. Section 1927 study). Ours is a less mature study than any of these and certainly less than the one that held a public meeting, that is, the second I-69 study.

  1. Kent Cochran (NPS): What's required for making the report, is public involvement required? Use that to make decision.

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): It is not in the statutory language.

  1. Elizabeth McMullen (USFS): A public meeting is never going to change anyone's belief whether there is a conspiracy. We can go to the public and tell them where we are, but we can also point to the website, etc.
  2. Jamie Higgins (EPA): We're not trying to change minds, but disclose. By identifying a corridor, it plants a seed.
  3. Greg Thomas (Cleveland MPO): If we're not asked to recommend a corridor, can we not frame the report around a particular corridor? Something like "...of all the alternatives we looked at, this is the least problematic, and these are the costs associated with it..." Doesn't make sense to get the public riled up, maybe just the website makes sense.
  4. Jim Grode (WaysSouth): Conspiracy theorists aside, there are people out there who could benefit from seeing the ambivalence. Whether or not that means a public meeting makes sense over other methods, I don't know.
  5. Jim Grode (WaysSouth) and Jamie Higgins (EPA): Include disclaimers/caveats about what the report is/isn't, e.g., there is no purpose and need, this report should not be considered...etc., go with the "least problematic" approach.
  6. Jamie Higgins (EPA): The least problematic still has lots of issues.

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): That will come out in the documentation of the project development steps and costs in the report.

Martin Weiss (ICF Team): The price tag of the least problematic alternative should scare everyone away from any actual implementation studies.

  1. Loretta Barren (FHWA NC): Can disclaimer/caveat language be included on the website?

Stefan Natzke (FHWA HQ): The site is factual.

  1. Elizabeth McMullen (USFS): In the report, include information that will illustrate why/how things are problematic, e.g., going through the mountains will cost five times as much, etc.

Closeout

John Mettille provided a brief recap of the meeting. The next meeting will be in late April to discuss the steps and costs to complete.

The meeting adjourned at 3:40pm.

Action Items

The Alternatives Report, meeting presentation, meeting summary, and URL of the project website will be emailed to the EWG.
Updated: 03/22/2013
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