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Third Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study

Appendix B: Public comments and Webinar Summaries

This appendix contains a copy of all public correspondence submitted to the project team between August 2010 and June 15, 2011.  Summaries of the three online Question and Answer Sessions during May 2011 follow the comments.

3rd Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study
Public Question & Answer Webinars

May 17, 2011, 12:00-1:00 pm and 6:30-7:30 pm
May 18, 2011, 10:00-11:00 am

Three online question and answer sessions were held during May 17 and 18, 2011. The intent of these sessions was to present project highlights to interested stakeholders and to provide a venue for participants to ask questions. Between the three sessions, a total of 50 individuals attended.

Project Overview

John Mettille (Consultant Team) ran the meeting, presenting an overview of the 3rd Infantry Division Highway Corridor Study. As required by SAFETEA-LU, the study provides a big-picture look at construction costs and project development steps to create a connecting roadway between Savannah, Augusta, and Knoxville. It is not a project and will not recommend any alignment to be built. No construction funding has been identified.

The study team assembled an inventory or existing data sources and developed control points at Savannah, Augusta, Lavonia, and Knoxville to define the areas which corridors must connect. Four corridors were developed and screened against fatal flaws to eliminate unreasonable options which would have excessive impacts on the environment and major resources. Four design levels were applied to the corridors passing the screening. Costs were estimated ranging between $560 million for a context sensitive (minimal build) two-lane highway to Dalton and up to $6.1 billion for an interstate-level route. Signing an existing route with no new construction is estimated to cost less than $500,000. At the conclusion of the project, FHWA will submit a report to Congress summarizing the study findings.

Questions from Attendees on Alternatives Considered

Q: Who decides the control points and their significance?
A: Three Control Points were identified in the law; the Lavonia Control Point added in the FHWA task definition.

Q: Could an east-west corridor be built to connect the control points?
A: This could be addressed through a sub-study on traffic movements. The 14th Amendment Project addresses more of an east-west corridor.

Q: With Lavonia being a node, has the new medical campus at I-85 and GA 17 been considered? A: Specific resources have not been identified at this level of detail.

Q: Do you have a mileage comparison for the existing and proposed routes?
A: Interstates along the eastern study area boundary from Savannah to Knoxville form a route 420 miles long; along the western edge is 460 miles. Corridor A is 435 miles; Corridor B is 365 miles; Corridor C is 370 miles; and D is 385 miles. These are measured along the centerline of the corridor and don't count curves that would be built into a real road. Corridors C and D are shorter but would face more terrain challenges.

Q: Existing highways parallel to the routes are being widened to improve traffic flow. Why is a new route needed? A: The Expert Working Group (EWG) encouraged the study team to reuse existing roadway segments rather than developing new alignments. Costs account for these segments which are already being improved by the DOTs.

Q: Does the study consider Interstate level design?
A: An Interstate level along the corridor was considered in developing the cost estimates. Sections which already meet Interstate standards were assumed not to require any further upgrades and were not included in cost estimates.

Q: Why are roads considered through small towns instead of interstates?
A: Environmental costs would have to be looked at in more detail if further planning efforts are conducted. A range of costs were provided including Interstate levels through a Practical Solution level which would reduce impacts. At this level, corridors are shown as mile-wide, which allows a lot of flexibility to avoid communities and sensitive environmental resources.

Q: Does the Super-2 option include right-of-way for four lanes? A: No. It would only acquire enough for a two-lane roadway.

Q: Can the study consider rail alternatives instead of highway? A: The law requires consideration of a highway corridor.

Q: Would it result in fewer costs and impacts to continue widening US 441 through the National Park rather than building a new alignment?
A: Because conceptual corridors are a mile wide, flexibility exists within each corridor to reuse existing highway or build on new alignments nearby. Corridor C generally follows US 441 but was eliminated because of its impacts to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Commercial vehicles are banned from US 441 through the park today.

Q: Is there a way to connect the corridor to Corridor K for a connection to I-75? Would this reduce economic and environmental costs?
A: This option could be explored; it was suggested by the EWG for consideration. Because of the conceptual level of study, it would be premature to say whether it would result in more or fewer impacts. There is certainly that potential.

Q: Where would the alternative pass through Dahlonega?
A: At this level of detail, corridors are shown as one mile wide. Within this width, there is a lot of flexibility to adjust a highway to minimize impacts. Development of an actual alignment would occur much further into the project development process, beyond the scope of this study.

Questions from Attendees on Costs and Schedule

Q: What is included in right-of-way and utility costs?
A: For conceptual, mile-wide corridors, costs include average values for electric, water, and sewer. Contingencies are included to cover other elements which are unknown at this level of detail. Details would be better defined when/if the project advances.

Q: Does the study of cost include wildlife crossings?
A: This is not addressed specifically; however, environmental mitigations and contingencies would be adequate to cover this type of feature. This could be explored during a future planning or NEPA phase.

Q: Do cost estimates reflect future construction years or current year dollars?
A: Current year dollars were employed in both the DOT cost estimating tools used for the study. Factors are included for inflation and contingencies.

Q: Is it realistic to believe there will ever be funding for this project?
A: At this time, the state long range plans do not identify this project. Therefore, it is possible to infer that this project is not a priority for them. To get into these plans, the costs and needs for the projects would have to be assessed.

Q: How long could it take to fast track this project for construction?
A: The corridor is approximately 400 miles long. The project development process would require many steps and additional studies to examine the project need and divide the corridor into smaller sections. All Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are facing funding shortfalls and the project is controversial, both of which can impact the timeline. The team looked at similar projects to compare timelines, which can take 20 to 50 years or more. Fundamentally, the DOTs have to decide whether to pursue this corridor.

Questions from Attendees on Further Study Topics

Q: If the optional sub-studies are not listed in the law, how can they be considered?
A: The sub-studies were set up to give FHWA the flexibility to perform extra studies which may be necessary to respond to further questions from Congress.

Q: Why has no project purpose been defined?
A: This is a conceptual study, not a project. The purpose for a project would have to be established through the planning process, which has not occurred yet. It is not included in the Report to Congress for this study but is one of the steps to complete if a transportation project is identified for further development.

Q: Have traffic volumes or urban congestion been considered?
A: The team looked at information readily available from DOTs and MPOs, but a detailed analysis has not been completed. One could be completed in the future as an optional sub-study.

Q: Were studies conducted to explore congestion in Atlanta? Would the corridor provide relief for the congested Interstate system?
A: This has not been studied at this time. Optional sub-studies could be recommended to explore this issue. The Lavonia Control Point was intentionally included in part to focus the study beyond the Atlanta area.

Q: Have economic development studies been completed for cities along the proposed routes?
A: An economic analysis for projected growth potential has not been completed but could be studied in the future. The legislative history of Section 1927 indicates that the highway is intended to connect traditionally underserved, economically disadvantaged areas. This suggests economic development is one of the factors driving interest in this corridor.

Q: Were regional air quality standards and non-attainment areas considered?
A: At this conceptual level, corridors are broadly defined as mile-wide paths. Specific impacts to air quality have not been quantified but could be in the future.

Questions from Attendees on Public Involvement

Q: Will the team be meeting with the public?
A: If further sub-studies are conducted, public meetings could be included. At this time, recommendations for further sub-studies have not been determined.

Q: Have there been discussions with individual communities which would be impacted?
A: Because this study is occurring at a conceptual level, individual meetings have not been conducted at this time. The corridor is not included in any statewide or regional plans; it would be misleading to hold meetings this early in the process. If the more traditional planning sub-studies are conducted, a public outreach element would be conducted.

Q: Who reviews maps and comments? Can other corridors be suggested?
A: Additional corridors have been suggested by the EWG and public. Suggestions can be submitted via the website or email.

Q: Have public comments been in favor of the project or in opposition?
A: As of the end of April, 112 comments have been submitted through the website. Five have been in favor of the project, plus a few suggesting new alternatives. Other comments have been opposed to the project. Generally, concerns have been expressed about the impacts to resources (Parks, forests, scenic beauty, quality of life, etc), the lack of purpose for the project, and anticipated costs in light of the current economic climate.

Q: Have you considered public opposition which will occur in response to Corridor A, especially in light of the abandoned Northern Arc proposal in Atlanta?
A: The team has heard from the EWG and the public that there are concerns about any corridor through the northern portion of the study area. We recognize any corridor would be controversial. We will acknowledge this fact in the Report to Congress. Controversy often extends the project timeline.

Questions from Attendees on Next Steps

Q: When is the final study to be submitted? What happens next?
A: A draft will be submitted to FHWA by June 18, 2011. This will form the basis for FHWA's Report to Congress.

Q: When will Congress respond to the Report?
A: The timeline has not been defined. Congress' response to the reports it receives is highly variable. They can request additional information or may be satisfied with the content of the report as is.

Q: What items will be in the Report to Congress?
A: The report will cover what was specified in the law – costs and steps necessary to complete. It will also include a summary of comments from the public and the EWG and a description of the study methodology. It will not include recommendations.

Q: What is your final recommendation – kill the project or recommend further planning?
A: The Consultant team will review input from the public and EWG to determine if any steps should be considered for future planning. The Report to Congress will not include recommendations, only costs and steps to complete.

Q: Can the recommendation to Congress be to not pursue further activities?
A: The Report to Congress has to address the steps to complete and costs to construct a highway facility. Input from the EWG and the public will also be summarized in the Report. The Report does not make a recommendation to Congress. Any further action on the corridor would have to be initiated at the state level.

Q: What input will the public have into the FHWA Report to Congress?
A: Public comments will be summarized in the report, but there is not an opportunity for public review prior to submittal to Congress. Congress requires that Reports to Congress be posted on the web, but specifies that this should not happen until 45 days after the Congress has received the report.

Q: How many more EWG meetings are required following the draft report?
A: Four EWG meetings were scoped for the study; four have been held. The intent of the EWG was to guide the study and answer technical questions, not necessarily to review the report.

Other Questions from Attendees

Q: Why is it called the Third Infantry Division?
A: Congress used this title when they authorized the study and designated funds in the law. The Third Infantry
Division is based at Fort Gordon.

Q: Is any government agency advocating this project?
A: Not at this time. The State Long Range Plans do not include the project.

Q: Why is the project considered a "high priority project"?
A: This relates to the section of SAFETEA-LU in which funding was designated. There were just under 6,000 (actually just under 5,100) High Priority Projects designated in the law, three of which relate to this project.

Q: Will today's presentation be posted on the website?
A: There are technical limitations to what can be posted online. To request a copy, please email 3rdInfantry@dot.gov.

Updated: 03/22/2013
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