Originally created 11/20/02

Athens man wants DOT seat



ATHENS, Ga. - A Clarke County man who is a longtime advocate of turning Georgia's section of U.S. Highway 441 into a major tourism corridor is angling for the new seat on the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

E.H. Culpepper, the development director for the Classic Center, downtown Athens' convention and performance space, has begun contacting the 32 state legislators who will decide who occupies the new 12th District seat on the board that governs the state transportation department.

The board has representatives from each of the state's congressional districts. The new 12th District stretches from Athens to Savannah and includes parts of Augusta not included in the new 9th District.

Jimmy Lester, who will be the 9th District representative, said Mr. Culpepper is the only candidate he has heard about.

"I think he could do a good job," Mr. Lester said Tuesday.

Mr. Culpepper is a member of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, created by former Gov. Zell Miller to explore transportation alternatives for the state.

He is also involved with the Heritage Parkway Alliance, a group of property owners, local officials and other parties interested in seeing Georgia Highway 316 develop as a technology corridor.

Mr. Culpepper is involved in a similar effort to develop tourism on and around the U.S. 441 corridor, which runs from the far northern Georgia community of Dillard through Athens, Milledgeville, Dublin and Douglas and into Florida.

DOT board members are appointed to five-year terms, and some terms come open every few years.

The 12th District board member will be chosen within a couple of weeks of the opening of the Georgia General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 13.

The member will be chosen by a caucus of the nine state senators and 23 state representatives whose districts lie fully or partly within the district.

"All I'm doing is expressing my interest," Mr. Culpepper said Monday of his effort to get in touch with the legislators whose approval he'll need to take the seat.

He said serving the sprawling 12th District, which stretches for a couple of hundred miles, will require someone with "a willingness to travel" and an understanding of the diverse viewpoints in the district, which includes three metropolitan areas and a significant chunk of rural Georgia.

Mr. Culpepper acknowledged that, if selected for the seat, he would still be interested in seeing a commuter rail line between Athens and Atlanta.

"I recognize that as one of the things we need to pursue," he said. But he also noted that for commuter rail to become a reality, "the Legislature is going to be the entity where the impetus has to come from."