In the spring of 2005, a newsletter arrived in the mail to the citizens in the tenth district of Georgia. Representative Charley Norwood grandly presented his plan for an Interstate to connect Savannah, Georgia, to Knoxville, Tennessee, running through Augusta and then to Clarkesville, Sautee Nachoochee, Hiawassee, to Murphy and up U. S. 129 to Oak Ridge.
Rep. Norwood had maneuvered legislation to require the conduct of a feasibility study for a Third Infantry Division Highway, commonly called Interstate 3. This was added to the 2005 Transportation Act.
Excellent reporting from several area newspapers spread the word more widely, and the citizens of the area exploded! Groups were formed in almost every community from Clarkesville GA, to Murphy, NC, and surrounding counties to protest the planned highway. More than 600 people gathered at one meeting sponsored by the Towns County Homeowners, more than 200 at another, and almost 100 paid to give Representative Norwood a piece of their mind when he came to speak in Dillard, GA. After being bombarded by displeased voters for over an hour, Representative Norwood declared that he would say no more about the subject until the study of the highway corridor was completed.
Meanwhile listening to the people, commissioners in five Georgia counties, two North Carolina counties, one city and one Regional Development Area in North Carolina passed resolutions against the highway.
By the end of summer, local groups had joined to form the Stop I-3 Coalition. By-laws for the organization were established, bumper stickers and signs appeared everywhere, and the story was told through the news media on television, through local and Atlanta newspapers, and nationally on National Public Radio. The Stop I-3 Coalition settled into a war of words with legislators and showed at every opportunity the environmental and economic damage that this highway would render on our region.
As the Coalition matured, white papers were written, maps were developed, petitions were signed, an impressive web-site was launched and a full-time executive director was hired in March 2007. The Coalition set the major goal for the ensuing years–no more money should be appropriated for I-3 or any major new highway by any other name that would cut through this region. By 2008 the Coalition had developed political clout and influenced the positions of Congressional and Senatorial candidates as well as the direction of the House of Representatives on issues related to interstate highway plans for our region. However, we did not have the clout to stop the highway feasibility study that Rep. Norwood had put in motion.
In 2010 the Federal Highway Works Administration (FHWA) initiated its process to solicit and select a contractor to conduct the study that Federal legislation required be completed. That same year a contract was let to government contractor ICF International to conduct the study.
FHWA’s plan for the study included formation of an “Expert Working Group” to advise the contractor. FHWA invited the Stop I-3 Coalition to be represented on the Expert Working Group, along with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Army Corp of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Appalachia Regional Commission, various metropolitan planning commissions, and State departments of transportation from Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. From the onset the Expert Working Group asked the question, “What is the purpose and need for this highway?” That question was never answered. In effect, there was no purpose and no need.
As the only non-government member of the Expert Working Group, the Stop I-3 Coalition attended every meeting from 2010-2011, commented on every phase of the study, and kept our stakeholders informed. In the summer of 2011 the feasibility study was completed and sent to FHWA for review. The review process was completed in February 2012 and the study was sent to Congress. Thirty days later the final report was made available to the public. We are pleased with the outcome.
Let us remember and be grateful to those citizen warriors who have led the Stop I-3 fight with their boots and pocketbooks over the past seven years. Your love of this region and your thoughtful efforts and passion for this cause have finally paid off!