Recently there have been several articles questioning if the Georgia Department of Transportation would perform an environmental analysis for improvements along U.S. 441 and the Bishop area. I was contacted by State Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and State Rep. Chuck Williams (R-Watkinsville) asking that I address these questions and concerns.
Earlier this year, the department hired an engineering firm that has begun work to assess the existing conditions, identify community resources and conduct traffic studies and environmental analyses. This information is necessary to develop the project concept. GDOT is very aware of the cultural and potential historic resources in the area from our prior work and certainly will be diligent in assessing these resources with the new concept. GDOT remains committed to public involvement and working collaboratively with the stakeholder group on this project.
As I write this, Senate Bill 346 is pending in the General Assembly. [Editor’s note: It passed.] Whether or not the bill becomes law does not have any impact on GDOT’s responsibility and commitment to complete a thorough environmental analysis of this project. Generally, SB 346 changes the requirements for writing a report summarizing environmental impacts and does not diminish federal and state environmental laws. As an agency of the State of Georgia, GDOT values our cultural and environmental resources. In fact, GDOT’s office of environmental services employs archeologists, ecologists and historians that either perform work or review work done by private professionals to fully understand the existing resources and the potential for impacts to those resources.
GDOT is committed to working towards a solution that avoids or minimizes impacts and satisfies the purpose of the project. We will continue to engage, listen and evaluate the concerns from stakeholders, residents and public officials along the way.
Meeting Georgia’s transportation needs and protecting its environment are not mutually exclusive objectives. Our goal is to have a world-class transportation system and preserve Georgia’s natural and cultural treasures for many generations to come.
McMurray is commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation.