At the outset of the study, a public involvement strategy was developed to (1) enhance trust and promote lasting relationships with businesses, residents, agencies, government officials, and other stakeholders; (2) enhance awareness and understanding of the study to enable informed involvement and meaningful participation; and (3) be accountable, open, and flexible.
Because of the conceptual nature of the study and large geographic area concerned, a project Web site was the primary venue for public involvement. The purpose of the Web site was to offer public information about the study and to provide an avenue for public input. The Web site provided links to Expert Working Group materials, fact sheets, maps, technical reports, and frequently asked questions.
The Web site (www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/section_1927/3rd_infantry_highway) also provides a project-specific form that users can complete to submit comments, questions, and concerns electronically. Although 15 messages have been received in support of a project, the vast majority of comments oppose further development of any corridor. As of June 15, 2011, 229 comments have been received. Major themes of public comments received are summarized below.
Through the Web site comment form, members of the public suggested several alternatives for consideration, as shown in Figure 14. The No Build (signing only) option discussed previously was affirmed by several persons as a less costly and less environmentally damaging alternative.
A route through South Carolina, parallel to the Savannah River, between I-95 at Savannah and I-85 at Greenville was suggested (shown as Public-1). This alternative would lead to impacts within Sumter National Forest and at the Savannah River Plant nuclear facility. It faces the same challenges as Corridor D: missing the Augusta and Knoxville Control Points and travelling through mountainous terrain if continued northward. For these reasons, this alternative was not recommended for further study.
A route northwest from I-85 at Lavonia to I-75 at Cleveland, TN was also suggested through the Web site (shown as Public-2). The corridor would pass through the north Georgia towns of Cleveland, Blairsville, and McKaysville before following the proposed Corridor K route in Tennessee. This alternative would lead to impacts within the Chattahoochee and Cherokee National Forests and would pass through or adjacent to several federally designated Wilderness Areas. It would also cross through mountainous terrain and areas in Georgia designated as Protected Mountains. For these reasons, this alternative was not recommended for further study.
A route northwest from Augusta to I-75 at Dalton was suggested (shown as Public-3). This corridor was developed to pair with the southern portion of the Public-1 Corridor described above. This link closely parallels Corridor A West (with a spur at Dalton) north of Augusta and would result in similar impacts.
A route from Savannah to Augusta to Greenville then following a widened I-40 to Knoxville was suggested (shown as Public-4). This corridor crosses through the National Forests and follows the eastern boundary of the GRSM National Park, crossing through the same mountainous topography as Alternatives C and D. Members of the EWG identified existing routes through Asheville, NC as congested and recommended alternatives avoid this area. The proposed corridor does not intersect the Lavonia Control Point. For these reasons, it is not recommended for further study.
Other suggestions recommended pursuing high-speed commuter rail or reallocating funds to support military, education, public health, debt reduction, disaster relief, or other programs.
Letters were received from three organizations to request that FHWA host public meetings along the proposed corridors to provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions and provide feedback. Because of the vast geographical area covered by the study, its conceptual nature, and costs associated with in-person meetings, the project team opted to host Web-based meeting sessions instead. Three online question and answer sessions were hosted during May 17 and 18, 2011. Each Webinar featured a brief presentation about the study process, followed by an opportunity for participants to ask questions of the project team. A total of 50 participants attended the three events.
If transportation decisionmakers opt to advance the 3rd Infantry Division Highway for further project development, a robust public involvement process will be necessary. Comments received throughout this phase of work show a large number of regional residents and stakeholders have strong opinions about the corridor. To provide adequate venues to reach a diverse population spread over a large geographic region, the following efforts are recommended for any future public involvement efforts:Formation of a project advisory committee, made up of a limited number of area residents representing a broad cross section of perspectives: economic development, environmental preservation and conservation, historic interests, emergency services, etc.