Group to talk route of highway

Interstate 3, a proposed highway that would link Savannah, Ga., with Knoxville, Tenn., by way of east Georgia, has worried some residents of north Georgia mountain towns since it was proposed in 2004.


But opponents of I-3 now have hope that a new route won't pave over a swath of northeast Georgia mountains.

The board of directors of the Stop I-3 Coalition, a nonprofit group that formed to fight the proposed route through the southern Appalachians, will meet Friday to discuss a possible design that would take the interstate north through Greenville, S.C., instead of through the Georgia mountains.

Officials still are studying how to build the highway and how much the project would cost, but U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, might file to change that study specifically to consider a route through Greenville, said Holly Demuth, the executive director of the Stop I-3 Coalition.

I-3 was first proposed by U.S. Rep. Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican now out of office, as a way to bring economic development to the southern Appalachian and Piedmont regions of Georgia.

The project was also championed by the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, and Congress approved $1.32 million to study the idea in 2005 as part of the federal Transportation Equity Act.

However, shortly after the study was approved, the governments of several northeast Georgia counties came out in opposition, arguing that the highway would mar the natural beauty of the mountains that draws tourists. Many of the state's environmental and conservation advocacy groups also opposed I-3.

During his campaign, Dr. Broun -- who was elected to replace Mr. Norwood after he died in early 2007 -- said he opposed the costly interstate and would like to reallocate the study funding and focus on local highway projects that could serve some of the same purposes.

"We appreciate Rep. Broun's efforts to mitigate the impact of I-3 through the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee," Ms. Demuth said. "But we're still concerned about some of the impacts this new route would have."

The idea to reroute the interstate through South Carolina isn't a formal proposal, said Broun spokeswoman Jessica Morris.

"There's been a lot of talk, but as it is now -- everything is still in the works," Ms. Morris said. "This is just one of a number of possible alternate routes that we are looking at and trying to see what would work best. There's nothing written up and nothing official has even been drafted."

Dr. Broun is talking to north Georgia residents and the other members of Georgia's congressional delegation about possible routes for I-3.

When the feasibility study for the interstate was commissioned in 2005, everyone assumed the route would be a straight line from Savannah to Knoxville, Ms. Morris said. But that route was never agreed on and is still changeable, she said.