Considering the size and scope of the proposed Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor (RCDC) project, it’s only fitting that Tuesday evening’s public information session hosted by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) drew a large crowd.
In fact, more than 100 people attended the open house meeting at Faith United Methodist Church in Cartersville to learn more about the long-discussed plan to build a new connector directly linking Highway 411 to Interstate 75.
“This project, we believe, is really important for both residents of Bartow and Floyd counties,” said GDOT District 6 Communications Officer Mohamed Arafa. “It is intended to ease congestion in the area, support economic development in both counties and provide access to I-75, and also relieve some of the truck traffic congestion in the area.”
Onlookers carefully examined a series of large poster boards, outlining the proposed pathway of the roughly 6.2-mile project.
As currently planned, the divided four-lane would start near the current intersection point of highways 41 and 411, fairly close to Shaw Industries’ Plant 15. From there, the new roadway would cross Joe Frank Harris Parkway, creating a new partial cloverleaf interchange in the process, and via a series of bridges begin to cut across Mac Johnson Road.
The proposed alignment would then branch off through what is today undeveloped woodland near the Green Valley Greens Golf Course. The connector would run parallel to Amber Ridge Drive and Bishop Mill Road and spin off at a roundabout for access to Grassdale Road and Rudy York Road. The four lane would then run parallel to Old Grassdale Road, with another roundabout near Peeples Valley Road. The roadway would continue north of Keith Road, cut through more currently undeveloped woodland, bridge across Interstate 75 and continue along a path near Old Grassdale Road before terminating at Great Valley Parkway in White.
At least six roundabouts are planned for the connector, as well as at least one reduced conflict U-turn (RCUT) intersection in the vicinity of Keith Road.
“The U.S. 411/U.S. 41 interchange would require a new ramp as well as the widening and reconstruction of several existing bridges,” GDOT documents state. “New bridges would be constructed along the length of the corridor as the mainline spans multiple environmental resources [and] a new diamond interchange is proposed at I-75 with a new bridge structure.”
Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said the proposed project would greatly improve east-west connectivity in the county, all the way from the current 41/411 junction to the Highland 75 industrial park.
“It provides much better access to the interstate for the existing industrial parks — Trinity Rail, Gerdau Ameristeel, everybody in that vicinity, and then all the new development and future development that’s going to occur on the 1,000-plus acres around Anheuser-Busch,” Olson said. “That area, I think over the next 15 to 20 years, is just going to continue to see economic development occurring.”
Arafa estimated the total costs of both construction and right of way acquisition to be around $155 million.
“If things go as planned, we intend to finalize the right of way plans and start the acquisition process of the right of way in 2022,” he said. “We also intend to put this project out for bidding in 2027.”
Due to the magnitude of the project, Arafa said he expects the new infrastructure to take at least two to three years to be completed. However, he’s optimistic that the RCDC could be finished as early as late 2029.
Pending how smoothly the right of way acquisition process goes, however, Olson said there’s a possibility construction on the project may begin much sooner.
“The project manager said the goal is to have it ready for right of way by 2020 and to acquire the right of way, that takes a year or two, depending on how litigious the process is,” he said. “With good fortune, you could get it let in, say, 2022.”
In conjunction with the county’s four-phased Cass-White Road improvement project, Olson said he expects the RCDC project to vastly improve access to Cass High and White Elementary, as well as for “all the citizens on the west side of the interstate that have got to get to the east side of the interstate.”
He also said he expects the completed project to be a boon for economic development in the area.
“Putting a dollar value on that, we like to see at least five jobs an acre come out of an industrial development, typically. So if this opens up hundreds of acres for development, it opens up thousands of jobs,” Olson said. “An investment might be $50 million for a couple hundred jobs, that’s kind of the scope you see, so if you do that math? It might be several hundred millions of investment that gets triggered because of this improvement to the infrastructure.”
As for the project’s funding structure, Arafa said GDOT isn’t eying any special federal grants — such as Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) resources — to finance RCDC construction.
“It is the regular federal funding,” he said. “Usually, it’s 80/20, meaning 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent is our local or state match.”
Olson, however, said he’s heard otherwise regarding the project’s possible funding setup.
“One program document I’ve seen suggests construction will be House Bill 170 money, so I think they’ll try to find whatever money they can,” he said. “If a federally funded project falls off because of a problem, they might take that money and use it for this project and if an HB 170 state-funded project hits a delay, they might be able to shuffle that into it.”
Olson said there is some federal money, which was earmarked several years ago, currently available to cover right-of-way costs.
“So they should have the money they need for engineering and right-of-way,” he said, “it’s just getting the $80 million or $100 million for construction that’s going to be the heavy lift.”
Arafa said GDOT is finalizing environmental review work on the project — the department expects the RCDC to receive environmental approval from the Federal Highway Administration by summer 2020.
“How many people would be displaced, how many parcels of right of way are we going to acquire,” Arafa said, “we always try to build our roadways while minimizing their impact on both the natural environment and the social environment.”
At the moment, it remains unknown just how many residents would be displaced if the RCDC project, as currently presented, became a reality. The displays shown by GDOT at Tuesday’s meeting suggested at least two dozen standing properties — among them, Peeples Valley Community Church — could be directly in the path of the proposed connector route.
“I would imagine they would use condemnation if they needed to,” Olson said. “That’s always been GDOT’s M.O. They had to use it on Old Alabama, they had had to use it on State Route 20, they had to use it some on the cloverleaf.”
GDOT is accepting public comments on the project plans until March 12. More information on the project is online at www.rometocartersville.com and hard copies of the RCDC displays and plans are available at the GDOT Area Office at 874 Peeples Valley Road in Cartersville.