The letter, which highlighted the proposed route’s benefits of economic development in Bartow County and direct Interstate 75 access for Floyd County, in addition to improved traffic flow and a potentially shorter route, was signed Wednesday afternoon at the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce.
“For these many reasons, we respectfully request that you assist us in getting the 411 Connector built as soon as possible. What we hope to avoid is a restarting of the lengthy traffic and environmental studies that may again point to a route too similar to the obstacle-filled route that has failed,” the letter reads. “This connector will unlock our region, fuel economic growth and improve the quality of life for all of us, our children and grandchildren. We hope you can support our request, so that we can celebrate the reality of this much-needed connector.”
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor, Floyd County Commission Chair Irwin Bagwell, Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini, Rome Mayor Jamie Doss, chamber President and CEO Joe Frank Harris Jr. and Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Albert Hodge all signed their name to the letter. Bartow chamber Chair Adena Harper and Rome chamber Chair Anne Kaiser were in attendance as well.
Before setting pen to paper, Taylor noted how important the proposed connector would be for both the Bartow and Floyd communities.
“I just appreciate everybody being here, and friends from Floyd County, this is a historic day and it’s something that both communities has needed for several years. We’re just so proud to have our neighbors from Floyd here with us,” he said. “This is very important to their community as well as ours. We couldn’t be happier with Irwin and his commissioners. I got to know them the last few weeks more than ever and we’re just so appreciative, and the level of cooperation on this project is just amazing.”
Bagwell extended his thanks to Bartow County and each government’s staff.
“I’d like to thank also all those involved in making this happen. It’s not just us sitting at this table, it’s everybody on our support staff that made this come together, and this highway is going to be the highway to economic development for Rome and Floyd, Bartow and city of Cartersville. This will be big. We’re all just happy to be here and happy with the level of cooperation. It’s just been outstanding,” Bagwell said.
For his part, Santini looked ahead to what would happen once the letter was sent.
“Thanks everybody for being here. I’m just thrilled you’re going to show up and watch us sign a piece of paper. Even more so than the contents of the letter, I do think I reiterate what has already been said, but the fact that we’re all working together more regionally and finding those areas that we can work together for mutual benefit [of] both communities, I’m really happy for that,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get together ... get the letters back from the senators to tell us good news and we’ll finally be moving forward with some type of road that will benefit both communities.”
While answering questions after signing the letter, officials from both counties could draw only a general route for the proposed connector. Running roughly from U.S. Highway 41 at Grassdale Road to the Old Grassdale Road overpass at I-75, the exact route has not yet been determined. Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said Georgia Department of Transportation and federal highway officials would have the final say.
“So they’ve said, ‘You can’t dictate the route, it’s going to have to go through the process.’ We’ve generally indicated the route we’d like to see it go. ... What’s changed is the new information. Economic development, circumstances have changed, you know, traffic situations have changed. So they get to restudy it, and then they’ll recommend whatever route their modeling suggests,” Olson said. “Then the other thing is they can take into account economic development and not just mobility, so it’ll be sort of two purposes to the project now instead of just one.”
Taylor, Bagwell and other officials met with GDOT Wednesday morning to discuss the proposed connector. Kaiser said roughly 20 people were in the room, including various engineering and planning directors, and they had an “extremely positive response” to the connector proposal.
Jamie McCord, Floyd County manager, said the two counties working together likely added to the positive reception.
“Again, they were cautiously positive in the fact that we don’t know what’s out there or what could be up there that could be a problem. But I saw nothing but cooperation and, I think, relief in the room. ... We know that this other route’s tough. We know the courts have said it’s not going there, so we’ve got two communities coming together and saying, ‘We’d like you to look in this direction,’ and I think they welcomed the sentiment,” McCord said.
When asked about timelines, cost and funding, the officials could offer no specifics as planning and various studies have not yet taken place. However, Santini said they would continue to push for the revised connector.
“I think the only thing we can guarantee the people that we serve is we’re going to do everything on our part to keep it — we’re going to do what’s required to try to keep it moving and keep it in the hands of the people like the DOT, like the federal government, the ones who are actually going to make this happen,” he said. “By us doing our part and being aggressive as we are today, it will — that’s about the limit of our powers.”
In comparison to the other proposed connector route, D-VE, Santini and others were hopeful the new proposal would escape lawsuits and court orders, as portions of the land are undeveloped.
“The issue was always the property owners and the Federal Highway Administration. It was always tied up in court over whether or not that land was going to be able to be used. So I think the distinction here again, is we’re not, hopefully, looking at court cases or land acquisition issues. This is a better opportunity for us to work together now that there’s really a route that we can get behind that’s not going to be encumbered by courts,” Santini said.
Another difference from previous efforts, Taylor said, was how both counties were working together.
“I think the difference ... I’ve only been commissioner a year and a month, so I’ve been aware of the need as far as Floyd County goes needing a road, and I don’t think that the cooperation between the two counties has been negative in any ways. But I think it’s the first time the two communities has came together and worked together to get the road done,” Taylor said. “We realize it’s very important to Floyd County to get this done, but we have a need too. We’d like to see an exit on I-75 that help our industrial parks and economic development in Bartow County. As Irwin and somebody said earlier, this is a mutual benefit for both communities, and we realize that.”