Section 1927 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) requires development of "a report that describes the steps and estimated funding necessary to designate and construct a route for the 3rd Infantry Division Highway," extending from Savannah, Georgia, to Knoxville, Tennessee, by way of Augusta, Georgia.
The study does not recommend whether or not to build a project in the corridor. It does not recommend a preferred alignment or design level.
The intent of this conceptual feasibility study is to develop planning level cost estimates for potential corridors connecting these urban areas. The study is not intended to recommend any specific alternative for implementation; it will not lead to construction of any specific highway improvement unless State and local transportation decisionmakers determine that additional project development activities should be pursued. The 3rd Infantry Division Highway Corridor has not been designated as a future Interstate, and there is currently no funding identified to support long-range planning, environmental review, design, right-of-way acquisition, utilities relocation, or construction beyond the initial funding made available for this study. To proceed further, these activities must be initiated at the State or regional level.
The 3rd Infantry Division Highway Corridor is commonly referred to as "I-3" by locals in the States of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Originally proposed by the Georgia delegation to the U.S. Congress in 2004, I-3 was intended to serve the following purposes:
The Georgia delegation initiated two bills, S. 459 and H.R. 301, directing that: (1) a new Interstate highway (formerly the Savannah River Parkway) designated as "United States Interstate Route 3" should be constructed between Savannah, Georgia, and Knoxville, Tennessee; and (2) such highway should be known and designated as the "3rd Infantry Division Highway," in honor of the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division. The bills directed the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to study and report to the appropriate congressional committees on the steps and estimated funding necessary to designate and construct a new Interstate route for the 3rd Infantry Division Highway. Neither bill passed.
However, on August 10, 2005, legislation to study the corridor was signed into law as part of SAFETEA-LU. Although SAFETEA-LU does not designate the 3rd Infantry Division Highway as an Interstate or future Interstate, it does provide funding for the consideration of a new Interstate following the proposed 3rd Infantry Division Highway route. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Planning refers to the 3rd Infantry Division Highway as a "corridor" since the highway is not currently designated as a future Interstate and because no preferred alignment for the highway has been established. A corridor denotes a broad geographic band following major movements (e.g. passenger car trips, freight flows, transit links, etc), rather than a specific roadway type or path.
A press release about the project in late spring 2005 generated substantial concern in the southern Appalachian area. In northeast Georgia, the Towns County Homeowners Association organized a general meeting in May 2005. An estimated 650 citizens attended the meeting; of the 30-40 stakeholders who spoke at the event, none were in favor of the proposed project. Later meetings elsewhere in Georgia and North Carolina occurred, again eliciting general outcry from attendees. Unofficial polls during 2006-2007 indicated an estimated 90 percent of northeastern Georgia residents were opposed to the proposed project; numerous counties in north Georgia and western North Carolina have officially announced their opposition to the project. None of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in the region have included the project in their planning documents or expressed support for the general corridor concept. Fed by public opposition, several regional non-profit environmental protection organizations have joined the opposition campaign.
This conceptual feasibility study was initiated in 2010 to satisfy the statutory language that the FHWA carry out a study to document the steps and estimate the funding needed to designate and construct a route between Savannah and Knoxville.
Two other major corridors have been identified within the study area for the 3rd Infantry Division Highway corridor. These are noted below and should be coordinated during any future project development activities which may be deemed necessary.
Also required by Section 1927 of SAFETEA-LU, a conceptual feasibility study for the 14th Amendment Highway corridor is being conducted concurrently with the 3rd Infantry Division study. The 14th Amendment Highway is proposed to extend from Augusta, Georgia, to Natchez, Mississippi, servicing intermediate cities of Macon, GA; Columbus, GA; and Montgomery, AL. A portion of the highway corridor in Georgia was designated as a Congressional High Priority Corridor under Section 1105(c) of the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991. The segment from Columbus to Macon was previously studied by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) as part of the Governor's Roadway Improvement Program.
Corridor K, part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, has been under development since the 1980s. The proposed corridor runs from I-75 near Cleveland, Tennessee, to near Dillsboro in western North Carolina. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) completed a Transportation Planning Report in 2010 for the Tennessee portion of the route (US 64 from west of the Ocoee River to near Ducktown), which reduced the scope of the proposed project to spot improvements along key sections of US 64. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is currently being developed. Construction has been completed on the eastern section of the North Carolina portion of the route; additional study is underway by the North Carolina Department of Transportation in Cherokee and Graham Counties.