ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes' recommendation of former state Sen. Tom Coleman of Savannah to become the next transportation commissioner will give the "other" Georgia a powerful ally in steering highway dollars outside the metro Atlanta area, political and business leaders said Wednesday.
Mr. Barnes said Tuesday that he, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and House Speaker Tom Murphy have agreed that Mr. Coleman, former chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, should succeed Commissioner Wayne Shackelford when he retires next year. Deputy Commissioner Steve Parks, the governor's first choice, has decided to retire.
If the state Transportation Board approves Mr. Barnes' recommendation, Mr. Coleman would become the first transportation commissioner hired from outside metro Atlanta since Downing Musgrove, who served from 1973 to 1975.
Political and business leaders from outside the region surrounding the Georgia capital long have complained that they haven't been getting a fair share of federal and state highway aid.
Among the examples they frequently cite are the long-awaited Fall Line Freeway, Savannah River Parkway and the widening of U.S. Highway 441.
The percentage of the 371-mile U.S. 441 project that has been completed has risen during the past six months from 25 percent to 32 percent. But virtually no construction has occurred during that time along the Fall Line Freeway between Augusta and Columbus or the Savannah River Parkway linking Augusta and Savannah, according to Department of Transportation figures from this month.
"The Savannah River Parkway, I've heard, is at the top of the priority list," said Kevin Shea, senior vice president of economic development for the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce.
"If rural Georgia is going to survive, we're going to have to have better access to the interstate system," said Max Lockwood, president of the U.S. 441 Council, an economic development organization based in Douglas.
Mr. Lockwood believes Mr. Coleman will embrace his group's goal of completing the Governor's Road Improvement Program, a state effort aimed at rural highways, by 2010.
Mr. Taylor, who has made rural Georgia a priority, said Mr. Coleman was a driving force behind the creation of the program, which received an additional $12 million in this year's state budget.
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