a contrasting project in Savannah, GA where they plan to remove part of   I-16 to improve Neighborhood Connectivity - New Urbanism

Image below from Interface Studios / Sam Schartz Engineering

Interface Studios

2nd Street Boulevard Proposal  (power point presentation)

  South-Downtown Connector
& 2nd Street Bridge

Google map of area
Historic 2nd Street Bridge in Macon, GA

2nd-Street-Bridge-view.jpgto be Rebuilt as a part of a Proposed Alignment of Little Richard Penniman Blvd. and 2nd Street.... as part of the South Downtown Connector. See website. Macon-Bibb Road Improvement Program.

Macon, Ga - Mercer University Blvd - Little Richard Penniman Blvd.,  Telfair Street,  Ell Street and Ash Streets.

    Bibb County's - "Roads Improvement Program"  

"We found no specific reason to develop the South Downtown Connector"

"The road poses serious Environmental Justice issues"  

"A road this wide, driven through the center of the neighborhood, is bound to fracture and further isolate  portions of the community, just as it struggles to redevelop itself." - The Consulting firm EDAW .  EDAW is consistently ranked among the world's leading design firms, and boasts hundreds of client and industry awards.

From page 1 of the report dated Dec 20th, 2000

page 2,   3,   4


Serious Eminent Domain Abuse for development in Macon

Most Maconites do not want to see our tax dollars used to uproot Wilson Electric Co.

PHOTOS: When Is It Time For Eminent Domain?

by - Grant Blankenship

Roger Wilson has worked at the family business, Wilson Electric Company, since he was six years old and run it since 1955. He and his sons want to fight Macon-Bibb County as they try and take a piece of the business for part of a renovation of Second Street.

Macon, Ga.

Mike Wilson was in his office. He took a scrapbook off a shelf and peeled back the plastic sheet cover. He picked up a single photo. It might as well have been his entire family history.

That is Wilson Electric Company. Top to bottom, every bit of it. Back about 1930,he said.

The photo showed a small desk, a step ladder used as a stool, some tools, a hat hanging from a rack. It looked like a workshop you might have in a corner of your basement. Which was exactly what it was in 1930 when Mike Wilson's grandfather started the business.

He dug out the basement of my great grandmother's boarding house and made him a little place to work.” Wilson said.

The work was rewinding electric motors, a skill Mike Wilson's grandfather probably picked up at the job he had been cut loose from in a lumber operation at the edge of town. Electric motors have not changed much and they are everywhere. The work is the mainstay of Wilson Electric Company to this day and it has fed three more generations of Wilsons.

A photo of the original Wilson Electric Company, circa 1930.

Mike Wilson's father, Roger, grew up in the way of the family business.

We started from scratch. I mean really, you can't start any lower than we started,” Roger Wilson said.

Roger Wilson remembers when his mother would spend the scant midday hours between her split shifts at the telephone company right alongside his father. Slowly but surely the business moved out of the basement and out to it's present home on Pine Street in Macon, Ga.

College happened with the help of a football scholarship. Later he was drafted into the NFL. But in the days before mega bucks for athletes, the pay wasn't so great.

I figured "to hell with that, I could make that fixing motors", Roger said.

I had always worked in the shop from the time I was 6 or 7 years old until the time I left for college, Roger Wilson said.

Electric motors big and small are the bread and butter of the Wilson Electric Company.

Roger Wilson has been running the family business since about 1955. In the early 1960s, he started an adjunct company, Wilson Electric Supply. That company sells the stuff electricians need to do their jobs. Though it and the parent company are still successful, they are threatened by a larger scheme of economic development.

Wilson Electric Versus The Renovation Of Second Street

The Renovation of Second Street in downtown Macon is that scheme. The street runs two miles from Mercer University on one end to the relatively hard scrabble east side of Macon on the other. In the middle are government buildings, hospitals and scattered businesses. The idea is to make a walkable, bike friendly corridor connecting it all in which new businesses and apartments will fill in the gaps.

The block Wilson Electric is on is right in the middle of what Macon Mayor Robert Reichert says is, for now, an ocean of asphalt.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert with the master map of the Second Street renovation project. The project seeks to connect Mercer University and East Macon far across the Ocmulgee River via one walkable, bike friendly corridor. The Mayor and others hope businesses will follow.

We needed to break up an ocean of asphalt with an island of green, Reichert said.

To that end, a park, Mid City Square is planned.

Eminent Domain Abuse?

County workers are demolishing structures on three of the corners of the square. But not on the fourth. Half of Wilson Electric Supply Company would be demolished for that. Mike Wilson says his family put up roadblocks last December when they received a letter from the local land bank.

County workers tear up one of the lots near Wilson Electric Supply Company that was sold to Macon-Bibb County for the Mid City Square project.

And right off the bat were threatening eminent domain. That we want your property and we will use eminent domain to get it, Mike Wilson said.

The letter didn't go over well with Mike Wilson's mother.

She's about eighty five years old, so it kind of upset her, Mike Wilson said, "Immensely."

Or his father.

I just told 'em hell no, I ain't going to let you have my property. I worked too hard to get it, Roger Wilson said.

The second letter with an offer to buy the place didn't go over any better. Mike Wilson says the dollar amount wasn't even close to what it would cost for the business to recover. That would take what he calls "Lottery Money."

Demolition on another corner of the Mid City Square project is reflected in the front door of Wilson Electric Supply Company.

So now there's a stalemate.

"As someone pointed out long ago, it's hard to have a mid-city square with only three corners, Mayor Reichert said.

For Reichert, the Second Street project is crucial to Macon-Bibb's survival. He's not backing down.

"So this is not just some penny ante...why not here, move down a block, you know? Reichert said.

So no one is selling. When should eminent domain be used? Reichert, a lawyer, says it is pretty clear cut.

"When you're building a road for example and you've got one land owner right in the middle who just says no, Reichert said.

That doesn't sit well with Mike Wilson.

"They're not putting a highway in or building an airport, Mike Wilson said.

Mike Wilson, center, and his brother Lee in the front of Wilson Electric Supply Company in Macon. Much of that half of the family business would be demolished for a park at the center of the renovation of Second Street in Macon.

In his eyes what the county is building is a little green space with hope for more businesses to come. He asks why disrupt an already successful business for that?

For eminent domain to come into play, the Mayor will have to convince the Macon-Bibb County Commission it's warranted. That hasn't happened yet.

The family would get more than the sale price of their property if they take a deal.

According to Alison Goldey, head of the Middle Georgia Land Bank, by law, a yet to be determined amount of cash will go to the resettling of the family business.

We would have to make him whole. Macon-Bibb County would have to make him whole, Goldey said.

But until there's a deal or someone blinks, mid city square will remain a square with three corners.




Posted on Sun, Nov. 26, 2006

Connector project entering new era
By Travis Fain

On the list of Macon's on-again, off-again road projects, the South Downtown Connector is at or near the top.

It's been discussed for decades. The route and concept have been through more changes than planning officials can easily remember. It's been talked about so long that it appears on city maps from the late 1990s, but it's never made it past the initial stages preceding detailed design work.

And now it enters another era: Officials are talking about building it as a two-lane road, though there would be another two lanes on either side for on-street parking. The road would be divided by a median and run down what is now Elm Street.

The plan has been submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation - and a spokesman said the department may sign off on it - but there is a slew of paperwork left to do and several key votes for local leaders to take first.

There's also the matter of winning public support for a project that's been opposed by area residents at nearly every turn and surviving an expected legal challenge if the project gets far enough along.

For years, politicians and road planners have wanted to build the connector to give trucks another route from Interstate 75 to the industrial district adjacent to downtown Macon. Various iterations have been suggested, but basically the plan has been to start at Little Richard Penniman Boulevard - the name for Mercer University Drive as it approaches downtown - and widen one of several neighborhood streets to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The sales-tax financed roads program would pay some costs, but the state would fund the bulk of construction.

At the moment, the plan is to widen Elm Street. Past plans have focused on Edgewood Avenue.

Several four-lane versions of this basic idea have been rejected. Now, partly because of residents' concerns about such a wide road, the project is being described as a two-lane road with room to park on either side.

But it's the "exact same project we had before, except one of the lanes is a parking lane," said Van Etheridge, an engineer with Moreland Altobelli, the private firm that manages Bibb County's roads program.

Michael Ryan has been fighting the project for years. He filed an environmental justice complaint against it several years ago and says he'll do so again if the project gets far enough along. The original complaint noted that the road would run through the historic Tindall Heights area. And Ryan accused the roads program of trying to ramrod a major highway through a poor, black part of the city.

"Essentially, (it's) a truck route they're going to put through a black historic district," Ryan said last week.

As for the new two-lane plan: "It can easily be turned into a (four-lane road) by eliminating the parking," Ryan said. "That is essentially a four-lane road."

Mayor Jack Ellis is sticking up for the new plan.

"It calms traffic," he said. "We don't want to put an expressway through the area."

Ellis said he thinks area residents are OK with the two-lane plan. He said it's time for the bureaucracy to "start turning" and approve the new design concept.

Etheridge said the various approvals needed will probably take "several months ... or more." And he's less than optimistic when it comes to public opinion. He's sat through too many meetings, listened to too many angry complaints about the project over the years to have much hope, he said.

"Everything we've come up with so far has met with opposition, and I don't know why this would be any different," he said.

To contact Travis Fain, call 744-4213 or e-mail

 Posted on Tue, Nov. 15, 2005

Ellis pushes for approval of road project


Macon Mayor Jack Ellis said Monday night he would like to see a proposal approved by the end of fiscal year 2006 for an extension of the South Downtown Connector.

Currently Little Richard Penniman Boulevard ends at Telfair Street but community leaders and members are discussing ways to help move traffic from there to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Numerous public hearing have been held over the past several years, but none of the various prospective routes have garnered enough public approval to push the process forward. There's also been talk of abandoning the project altogether and shifting money to other road projects.

"I would hope this is the last public hearing that we're going to have," Ellis said at a public hearing at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Monday night. "What I'm hearing said here from the community is 'let's get something done.' "

Ellis said Monday that he would like for a decision to be made by the Macon-Bibb County Road Improvement Committee by the end of fiscal year 2006.

The Bibb County Commission holds final decision-making power on road program expenditures and does not always agree with the committee. The committee was set up as part of the sales-tax-financed roads program and has both city and county representatives.

At Monday's hearing, three routes were on display.

Ellis said he favored a route that would widen parts of Elm Street to four lanes. But some Macon residents at the public hearing Monday said they had concerns that a major road would hurt the neighborhood.

Ellis said that no matter the decision, it should produce little disruption to the neighborhood.

"In other words, we're looking for a win-win situation. How do we get there from here?" he said.

The Rev. Jacob Parker, of Ebenezer Baptist Church, said he wanted resolution to the issue.

"We need some improvement. When are we going to get it? How are we going to get it? Now is the time," he said.

Louie Hargrove, a resident of the neighborhood, said he would like to see the money spent on sidewalks and street lights, even if a road project doesn't go through.

Susan Hanberry Martin, chairwoman of the Citizen's Advisory Committee of the Macon Area Transportation Study, said a four-lane road would bring in too much traffic and make it more difficult for pedestrians who need to cross the street. She also said it would be a setback for a neighborhood being revitalized by Beall's Hill Project.

"It will bring heavy truck traffic through this neighborhood," she said. "It will fracture an already fractured neighborhood."

She said a two-lane plan has been drafted that would accomplish many of the project's goals.

A two-lane road, Ellis said, is something that also needs to be considered.

Telegraph staff writer Travis Fain contributed to this report.

Tim Sturrock can be reached at 744-4347 or


Posted on Fri, May. 21, 2004

Ellis attempts to build support for connector project

By Travis Fain

Telegraph Staff Writer

Politicians and planning officials are still working on a plan to bring Mercer University Drive into downtown Macon via the long-discussed South Downtown Connector, but the project remains a work in progress.

New versions of that plan - which has divided residents along the project's various proposed routes for years - were discussed Thursday during a public hearing Mayor Jack Ellis called to answer questions about the road and try to build consensus.

Although there was no clear consensus, Ellis found some support for a scaled-down version of previous plans. Instead of extending four-lane Little Richard Penniman Boulevard (the name Mercer University Drive changes to near Interstate 75) into downtown along Elm Street or another route, roads officials may now try to curve Penniman into Telfair Street.

The new design has the backing of a citizens advisory roads committee, which also won support for the plan among area residents, according to committee president Susan Hanberry.

The idea is vastly different from previous plans, which included a four-lane road with a median cutting through area neighborhoods.

Also at issue Thursday was how much money remains to pay for road work in the area. Initially the roads program - Bibb County's sales-tax financed building program - set aside about $1.8 million in local sales tax revenue to pay for the connector, according to program documents. That was to be married with about $2.5 million in state and federal money.

But without a concrete plan in place, the state and federal money has been moved to other projects, Ellis and Van Etheridge, who manages the roads program for the county, have said. Ellis said a Georgia Department of Transportation official told him the funding transfer left only about $800,000 for the project, but a roads program's project summary shows $1.8 million in local money available.

During Thursday's meeting, Ellis said he would have planning officials produce more detailed drawings of the new project design that curves into Telfair Street. They also will develop a cost estimate for the project, which will be far less expensive than previous versions.

Final decisions on what to build must be made by the roads program's executive committee, which is headed by Bibb County Commission Chairman Tommy Olmstead.

Ellis has asked Olmstead many times for a meeting of that committee, but Olmstead has not called one.

Macon City Council President Anita Ponder - who holds one of the five committee seats along with Olmstead, Ellis, commissioner Sam Hart and board of transportation member Ward Edwards - said she and Ellis likely will talk to other members about trying to force a meeting to discuss the connector project.

To contact Travis Fain, call 744-4213 or e-mail



Editorial Board Opinion of  The Macon Telegraph

Posted on Sun, Jun. 08, 2003

Roads should conform to community's wishes

The Bibb County Road Improvement Program has been snake bit almost from its very beginnings. Nowhere was that more apparent than at last Thursday's meeting to discuss the so-called Downtown Connector.

When citizens voted to approve a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for road improvements on Nov. 8, 1994, it squeaked by. The winning margin was only 346 votes. Why? There was no question Bibb County needed a lot of road work. Streets were in ill-repair and traffic synchronization was nonexistent (still is). Over the five-year period of the SPLOST, it was estimated the additional penny tax would raise $100 million, and state and federal money would pump in another $200 million. After the vote, the NAACP threatened a suit charging that public monies were used to promote the tax and that the program ignored the needs of minority communities. The idea of a suit was dropped, but that was just the opening salvo in a long and contentious battle over the purpose of roads in Bibb County.

Since 1995 when real work began, the program has hit a number of speed bumps, some small, some huge, not the least of which has been a band of what some call obstructionists: CAUTION Macon, Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Our Neighborhoods. CAUTION Macon organized in 1998. Its genesis was spawned by a perfect storm of events, starting with plans to widen Wesleyan Drive, Forest Hill Road and Edna Place. The elements that caused the group to form are still present today, mainly lack of communication, lack of trust and an arrogance by road leaders who discount public input.

The program got off to a rocky start. There was haggling between the county and Georgia Power over who would pay for the movement of utility assets as the roads program progressed. Some neighborhoods, like Fort Hill, received new sidewalks burdened with power poles in the middle of them. Homeowners along the routes of some of the first projects were told only a small portion of their properties would be taken for road widening and sidewalks. However, once movement of utilities and other rights-of-way were factored in, those citizens watched as more of their property disappeared. And some of the first projects, particularly along Rocky Creek Road, were just unsightly.

The community temperature was so high that CAUTION Macon was able to bring together segments of the community long separated by race and class to fight the program. Yellow ribbons and signs saying "Save our city" popped up like summer weeds after a thunderstorm. Instead of involving citizens in meaningful discussions, leaders were openly derisive when asked legitimate questions.

Fast forward to present day and that small strip connecting Little Richard Penniman Parkway, called the Downtown Connector, and M.L. King Jr. Boulevard. Much of the citizens' wrath is due to broken past promises. The project is small in comparison to some, only $2.5 million, but leaders could not make a case for displacing long-time residents that made sense because they haven't dealt with issues facing the community beyond the new road.

The other project is what has been called the Western Loop that starts at Bass Road and I-75 and winds its way to Eisenhower Parkway and Fulton Mill Road. People living along the loop's path have disliked just about every proposal, and now road engineers are getting set to present another plan. It is almost sure to be met with more opposition.

So what's missing in this roads picture? A real honest community conversation about the quality of life in Bibb County, of which roads are only a part. It will take a deep cultural change in the roads programs on the state and local level if officials will ever see the day when their ideas aren't met with abject opposition. Road planners have taken the "My way or the highway" stance, and it has been unproductive. And it is with that type of heavy handedness that roads have been built in this state for decades.

As in the recent uproar over I-75/I-16, the Georgia Department of Transportation invented phantom public input. And in other instances, particularly over Forest Hill Road, traffic estimates are the stuff of Houdini. Leaders have attempted to divert opposition by employing the financing shell game that passes the highway buck between state, local and federal funding sources. When opposition arises, leaders throw up their hands and say it's a state or a federally funded project and they have no voice. Or, the mantra will go out that the entire project is at risk if opposition becomes too vocal.

All the officials need to do is follow not only the letter of the law concerning public input, but its spirit. Those few voices still crying out for road justice should not be a nuisance. They have, in the final analysis, provided a valuable community service.

Ultimately, roads are built to serve the people and the communities they run through. No matter how wide or expensive or safe, they will only be useful if they conform to the communities they serve, not the other way around. 


Michael Ryan and Joseph Passonneau

Posted on Sat, May. 18, 2002

Neighborhood loses

By Michael Ryan

Special to the Telegraph

Telegraph articles following a very contentious and highly uninformative public informational meeting held April 18 by the Macon-Bibb Road Improvement Program. This observer believes that the public is being intentionally mislead about that project's history, purposes and likely effects.

The public record shows that the entire project, the first phase of which was built about a decade ago, is a result of the decision to close College and other Mercer University area streets. The future expansion/long-term objectives of two large institutions bordering the road project area - Mercer and the Medical Center - were fundamental considerations for the road planners who initially sought federal funds to start the project.

Originally intended to connect I-75 and the Macon Mall area to downtown via a junction at Second and Oglethorpe, the connector and its planned Edgewood Avenue extension now would convey truck traffic from the industrial area southeast of the neighborhood to I-75 and beyond.

The project's "Need and Purpose" statement, which was not available at the informational meeting, cites the relief of congestion along the Forsyth, Pine, Oglethorpe and Ash Street corridors as justifications for the connector. But the last decade's traffic statistics evidence a decline in volumes for Forsyth, low and unchanged counts for Oglethorpe and no numbers for Ash which is so lightly traveled that pedestrians can and often do stroll down the middle of it!

The N and P statement further states that the area traversed by the new route will see a major shift in use and that can be interpreted to mean "hello strip commercial, goodbye historic residential." Yet, local officials continuously assert, without supporting logic or argument, that the connector will revitalize the primarily African-American neighborhood.

The city's Economic and Community Development Department has contracted with an Atlanta company to prepare a plan for the Beall's Hill/Tindall heights neighborhoods and in developing the plan a memo concerning the connector was prepared. That document is in the files of the city and county, yet it too, was unavailable at the informational meeting and its contents clearly indicate why it would be kept from public view. It concludes that the connector would be a detriment for the neighborhood.

It reasons that (1) there is no compelling reason for the road (Eisenhower Parkway already supplying the desired connection), and (2) that the road is designed for high volume and freight traffic and would negatively impact nearby residential areas while impeding pedestrian movement and connectivity of area streets. Finally, it poses serious environmental justice issues.

Another outside group of planners/designers, the Beall's Hill Charrette team from the University of Miami and the Knight Foundation, expressed similar opinions about the connector as envisioned by the local road program. Therefore, it would behoove this community to heed the advice of objective and outside experts who are not under the influence of local developers and other special interests.

There are some other documents in the city/county road program files which ought to be of concern. An interoffice memo outlines the method by which federal historic preservation law, which curtails approval or funding of projects which threaten historic resources, such as exist along the connector's proposed route, could be avoided.

Letters from the county commission indicate that it tried to escape a requirement that right-of-way be acquired in accordance with federal procedures - procedures intended to mitigate the harm done to those displaced by highway projects. These documents indicate a lack of concern for this community's long-term interests in preserving its historic resources and furthering racial harmony.

Other connector related meetings have been held within the last year but they were "invitation only," unpublicized, controlled events at which the hosts - Economic and Community Development, the road program, the Mercer Center for Community Development - attempted to build support for their plans. Such methods are contrary to honest discussion and evaluation of the issues and relevant information surrounding projects of significant local impact.

This observer predicts that South Central Macon will undergo the same level of "revitalization" from the South Downtown Connector's construction that an ill person would experience from a bullet to the head.

- Michael Ryan is a resident of Macon


Extension is vital

By Joseph Passonneau

Special to the Telegraph

I have a copy of your May 8 editorial, "With better planning road could spur redevelopment." During my work in Macon I have been impressed by the coverage of civic issues, by The Telegraph and by Macon television stations. The editorial continues that coverage, and includes points on which I would like to elaborate. I understand that work on the extension of Little Richard Penniman Boulevard has a long history. But the important issues are only those since the current Bibb County Engineering Department became involved.

Little Richard Penniman now stops at Telfair Street. I assume that, from a purely transportation point of view, there is no question of the importance of connecting the residential neighborhoods to downtown, and that, the connection of the boulevard with MLK Boulevard is important to the city. As pointed out in the editorial, however, if this is done it must be done in ways that do not make the neighborhood suffer.

The Bibb County Engineering Department first laid out a road on a direct route along Elm Street. This route had at least two problems. It cut the neighborhood in two parts, and it displaced approximately a dozen homes. Neighborhood groups objected, as did Chester Wheeler, Director of the city's Economic and Community Development Department.

I was asked by the Engineering Department to develop a route that eliminated, or minimized, these problems. The neighborhood is bounded on the north by the S-Line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and this is where we located the extension.

Here it follows a seam in the land use, so the neighborhood is no longer split, but we were not able to reduce the displacement of homes. We presented this route to a "New Urbanism" conference, with wide neighborhood representation, sponsored by Mercer University. The conference generally applauded the proposal, with the addition of a linear park - a bike path/jogging path next to the railroad, framed by a double row of trees. Mr. Wheeler also added space for needed neighborhood stores at the intersection of Little Richard Penniman and Telfair Street.

The editorial stated that "residents are not necessarily opposed to the road. But they fear they'll be unfairly compensated for their loss." It is correct; the residents have made that clear. The Fair Market Value principle for compensation, based on an 1892 Supreme Court decision, provides accurate compensation for industrial buildings and similar properties. In my opinion, however, it is only a first approximation of true value for homes long occupied or for small businesses long established. That is the reason that, over the years, the federal government has added a number of additional compensatory factors, including the possibility of replacement housing built as part of federally financed projects.

Chester Wheeler is particularly concerned with fairness to displaced residents. So, at the Mercer conference I showed slide photographs of every building on the east-side of Second Street, between the Railroad and Edgewood Avenue. Two things are clear from these photos: This is a neighborhood of solid, well maintained homes, and there are a number of vacant lots near the railroad.

We have a very preliminary estimate, from a local Macon contractor, that the cost of moving one of these homes would be about $20,000. The Macon Heritage Foundation, between 1997 and 2001 sold 16 homes that they had rehabbed in Huguenin Heights for an average of $130,000, and since November, 2000, sold eight rehabbed houses in Tattnall Square Heights for an average of over $104,000.

While the value of these rehabbed houses cannot be compared directly with houses along the S-Line, this does suggest substantial value for homes in that area, much greater than the cost of moving them. So displaced homeowners could have a choice: they could take the compensation with available extra benefits, or they could have their homes moved to another lot of their choice, within the neighborhood.

It is my opinion that this extension of Little Richard Penniman Boulevard will add value to this neighborhood and is important to the health of downtown Macon, while also providing better access from surrounding neighborhoods to the downtown. The important opinion, however, is the opinion of the people living in the neighborhood, and that is the opinion that matters.

Joseph Passonneau is an architect and civil engineer based in Washington, D.C.  


 What do



The Bealls Hill Charrette - (webpage is no longer posted)

  Ready-to-Print Files, Reports and Documents from the Charrette.   At (webpages no longer posted)

Drawing of Penniman Blvd - at (webpage is no longer posted)



27. Traffic Calming: (City) Carry out traffic calming for Telfair Street since Penniman will relieve traffic flow

34. Penniman Boulevard: (City/DOT) Continue pursuing Passoneau & Partners plan for Penniman Boulevard and enhance it with calm, walkable street design features. Carry out necessary replatting for redevelopment of adjacent lots and include full connections to all neighborhood streets, especially over the railroad tracks. Decrease turn radii and adjust other design elements to achieve driving speed of 35 mph for pedestrian comfort. Remove left and right turn lanes except where absolutely necessary.

41. Churches: (Nonprofit) Landscape and beautify church grounds as sanctuaries, with facade improvements and parking sited to the side and rear of buildings


  2002 Telegraph Reports


Posted on Sat, Dec. 14, 2002

Racism alleged in Bibb road project

Residents say extending Little Richard Penniman Parkway will negatively impact neighborhood

By S. Heather Duncan

Telegraph Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating alleged civil rights violations that stem from extending Little Richard Penniman Parkway through the mostly black, low-income Tindall Heights/Central South neighborhood.

Several Macon citizens filed a complaint with the DOT's Office of Civil Rights against the Macon-Bibb County Road program. The complaint claims "minority populated historic areas in Macon are destined to suffer a far greater and negative impact than are similar historic areas that are not predominantly minority."

Michael Ryan, who is white and lives near the neighborhood, wrote the complaint in consultation with several residents. The DOT would not make available the full list of residents who signed the complaint, and would not explain how its investigations work.

The DOT is charged by a 1994 presidential order with upholding "environmental justice," which requires the department "to avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority populations and low-income populations."

Bibb County and road program officials say they have not yet been contacted by the DOT about the complaint.

Tommy Olmstead, chairman of the Bibb County Commission, chalked it up to Ryan's long-standing opposition to road program projects in the Mercer University area. Ryan's home near the university was at risk from a previous road project.

Olmstead disagreed the Tindall Heights area is being treated differently from any other neighborhood. "We've done everything we could to make it right," he said.

Van Etheridge, manager of the road program, said, "This neighborhood is in need of something, and we had hoped to be a part of it with a boulevard to help circulation and be a shot in the arm for those people."

But many say the road would have the opposite effect. As part of the complaint, Ryan included a 2000 study completed by the Atlanta-based design and planning firm EDAW, which found the road would "have a large negative impact on the neighborhood."

The report, requested by Macon and Bibb County, predicted that the road would divide neighbors, create localized air-quality problems, and reduce property values.

In February, the 22-member Central South Task Force presented Bibb County with a petition, signed by more than 200 people opposed to the project.

The Rev. Morris Sandifer, chairman of the task force, said the area is a victim of environmental injustice, targeted because it costs less to send the route through dilapidated homes with low property values.

"We're working hard now to revitalize our neighborhood, and to further divide it doesn't seem rational," Sandifer said.

"If this was any other neighborhood, I think they'd avoid the secrecy and meet with the community more often."

DOT environmental justice regulations also require that communities participate fully in decisions made about roads.

At a Planning and Zoning Citizens' Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday, several residents complained that the road program was meeting individually with sympathetic residents but shutting out opponents in the decision-making process.

The last major public meeting, in April, dissolved into a shouting match.

At that time, Etheridge told residents that the road would not be built if they didn't want it.

He has since said that as a contractor, he did not have the authority to make the statement, because elected officials will make the final decision.


Tindall Heights plan still going forward

By S. Heather Duncan

Telegraph Staff Writer

Despite a previous public statement that Little Richard Penniman Parkway would not be extended through the Tindall Heights area if neighbors didn't want it, the Macon-Bibb County Road Program has continued to develop routes for the project.

The four-lane "South Downtown Connector" would connect Penniman with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The proposal at the last major community meeting in April featured a road that would hug the Norfolk Southern S line railroad tracks from Second Street to Martin Luther King.

Road planners now are looking at two other possibilities: sending the route along what is now Elm Street, or putting it roughly between Elm and the tracks.

Both options would isolate a few blocks between the large thoroughfare and the train tracks, but would avoid the peak of Second Street hill and provide more visibility for cars turning left onto Martin Luther King, said program manager Van Etheridge.

Etheridge said he did not think living between the railroad tracks and the road would put anyone at a disadvantage. "If you heard that train for 100 years, why would the noise from the cars bother you?" he said.

Nevertheless, the road program recently asked the Macon Economic and Community Development Department to create plans for developing the space between the parkway and the railroad tracks to reduce the negative effect on the neighborhood.

Chester Wheeler, director of the Macon Economic and Community Development Department, said the route hugging the train tracks would have the least effect on residents.

The entire area affected is part of the historic Beall's Hill/Central South Macon district, a mostly residential area dotted with some small businesses and more than 20 churches. An adjacent portion of the South Central neighborhood is in the process of a massive renovation and rebuilding project, but Wheeler said the road will not affect redevelopment throughout Central South.

To contact Heather Duncan, call 744-4225 or e-mail




Posted on Fri, Jun. 06, 2003

Downtown connector likely dead

Public outcry strong against proposed road

By Travis Fain

Telegraph Staff Writer

Angry shouts sounded a death knell for the south downtown connector Thursday as area residents spoke against a plan to connect downtown to Mercer University Drive.

"It looks very dead to me," Macon City Council President Anita Ponder said following a public meeting on the matter, which was punctuated by angry questions and widespread opposition from a crowd of more than 60.

"When a vote comes ... I'm going to vote no," Bibb County Commission Chairman Tommy Olmstead said.

Olmstead's announcement drew applause from audience members, many of whom had just spent the better part of two hours lambasting the chairman and other officials about the project, which would have run from Telfair Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Ponder and Olmstead are two of five officials on the county road improvement program's executive committee - the body that would have to approve the connector to give it life. Macon Mayor Jack Ellis, County Commissioner Sam Hart and Georgia Department of Transportation board member Ward Edwards represent the other three votes.

Ellis left about halfway through Thursday's meeting on Elm Street, which would be widened as part of the proposed plan, but he'd heard enough to predict the project's death as he was leaving.

Executive committee members can act on the project July 9 - the next scheduled committee meeting. They can also decide what to do with the about $2.5 million allocated for the road, $1 million of which is locally controlled money raised through the 1-cent roads sales tax. The rest of the money is controlled by the DOT. Several people Thursday said they hoped the money stays in their neighborhood, much of which is run-down and has been tagged for revitalization by city leaders, but the committee could also decide to move the money to a road project in another part of the county.

The connector, like many road projects funded by the sales tax, has been controversial since it was proposed and it underwent several metamorphoses during the past several years. The latest route would have begun at the end of Little Richard Penniman Boulevard (which becomes Mercer University Drive) and curved over to Elm Street. Elm Street would have been widened from two lanes to four with a median.

Many on Thursday said the project would divide an already depressed neighborhood and worried that, despite a promised 35 mph speed limit, the wider road would lead to speeding.


Caution Macon article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution


A NEW CAUTION: Macon's roadbusters

Familiar fight: Middle Georgia road-builders, many residents are locked in struggle over growth.

Dan Chapman - Staff -

Monday, May 8, 2000

Macon --- The hairdresser feared her mostly rural community would turn into an industrial park.

The college administrator suspected neighborhood streets might be five-laned.

The housewife envisioned a bulldozer toppling the towering magnolia where her children play.

"What we all have in common," says Suzan Rivers, the housewife, "is a love of this city. We don't want it to get torn up."

They --- housewives, teachers, retirees, preachers, architects, dentists, lawyers, foresters, doctors --- also didn't want this midsize central Georgia city to turn into another traffic- and sprawl-fueled Atlanta. So they banded together to fight City Hall, transportation officials and the road-builders who are spending $320 million paving miles of Bibb County.

"Why can't Macon learn from Atlanta's mistakes?" asks Lee Martin, a small businessman whose 1960s idealism was rekindled by the road-building battles.

Martin, Rivers and dozens of other activists decided Atlanta's history is, indeed, replete with sprawl-busting lessons. Their education can be summed up in a word: CAUTION.

Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Old Neighborhoods --- CAUTION Inc. --- was formed in 1982 to combat plans to build a highway from downtown Atlanta east toward Stone Mountain. If built, neighborhoods like Druid Hills and Candler Park would have been ripped apart.

For 20 years, it was a citizens-vs.-developers battle played out in courtrooms, jail cells, kudzu-filled fields and politicians' chambers. More than 500 homes and untold acres of land were leveled.

In the end, though, CAUTION prevailed. Today, the Freedom Parkway meanders 3.1 miles from the Downtown Connector, past Jimmy Carter's presidential library and public-policy center, before dead-ending at one of Atlanta's most cherished parks.

CAUTION Macon fights strikingly similar --- and, at times, nasty --- battles. Name-calling. Lawsuits. Allegations of wasteful spending, political chicanery, conflicts of interest.

Dan Fischer, a former urban planner and city administrator in Colorado, accuses city, county and state officials of not fully informing Bibb County residents of the magnitude of the road-building projects.

"My experience in local government didn't prepare me for Macon government," says Fischer, now an administrator at Mercer University. "It's when they started doing obviously unjustified damage to neighborhoods that people realized there was something illogical about the process. They were willing to sacrifice the integrity of in-lying neighborhoods strictly to accommodate suburban sprawl."

Hogwash, responds Larry Justice, the longtime Bibb County commissioner who calls CAUTION "an outside group of agitators."

"Here's where I have a problem with these CAUTION people: They do not want growth," says Justice, a commissioner for 28 years. "They're being shortsighted. They're not looking down the road for their children and their grandchildren."

CAUTION has won and lost road-building battles during its two-year fight. Its most recent defeat came in February, when a federal judge dismissed CAUTION's lawsuit to keep a two-lane road from turning into a five-lane thoroughfare. Yet even its critics agree CAUTION has changed the democratic dynamic in once-placid Bibb County.

'We want to catch up'

Robert Fountain gleans different lessons from Atlanta's history. As Bibb County engineer, Fountain ascribes to the grow-or-die theory of economic development. Good roads attract business. New business keeps property taxes down. Lower taxes equal happier citizens.

"Ideally, I see us as a second hub to Atlanta in economic growth," says Fountain, county engineer for 26 years. "We want to catch up. Since the '40s, we haven't spent any money on this town. This is the best thing to happen to this whole community."

Fountain and others envision the transformation of this old mill town into a distribution hub with rail lines and four-lane roads heading in all compass directions. One of the keys, Fountain and others say, is to improve and expand the roads leading to the Perimeter-like beltway.

The Fall Line Freeway would serve as one leg of the triangle-shaped outer belt. Planned as a 215-mile highway linking Augusta with Columbus through Middle Georgia, the stretch around Macon remains in limbo. The road-bulders' preferred route runs through environmentally sensitive wetlands and near the Ocmulgee National Monument and burial grounds.

State and local transportation officials say their route wouldn't unnecessarily damage the 20,700 acres of "cultural property" considered historically important to the Muscogee Indian Nation. They're submitting an environmental assessment to the feds this month for approval.

Roughly a third of the $320 million in state, federal and local road-building money would help finish the Fall Line Freeway. While many a CAUTION member individually opposes the road's local segment, the group hasn't taken an official position.

Macon, whose air grows increasingly polluted each year, is expected to achieve this summer the same dubious air-quality non-attainment distinction that Atlanta already owns. If so, future road-building projects --- and Bibb County's hoped-for growth --- may be slowed.

Yet Macon barely grows now. With 115,000 citizens, it averages less than 1 percent growth per year. Fountain says the region averages maybe 6 percent growth.

But critics consider that insufficient to justify 62 road projects.

"All they're doing is taking federal money and just laying down asphalt without rhyme or reason," says CAUTION's Tom Scholl, an ordained minister. "We want every dime of the money spent. We just don't want them to spend it where they want to spend it."

"Pennies for Progress" is how Macon and Bibb County officials --- with a healthy assist from Atlantan Tom Moreland's engineering and program management firm --- campaigned for their road-building referendum in 1994. With an additional plea for Macon's future economic viability, the 1 percent sales tax proposal garnered a slim majority of Bibb County voters.

More than $130 million has since been raised locally.

Grass-roots effort

Graders and dump trucks crisscrossed Bibb County. Downtown roads were expanded and repaved. Front yards in intown, suburban and rural communities were ripped up to make room for two-, three- and five-lane roads. The goal remains to ease congestion and make smooth the drive from city to suburb to country.

By September 1998, the road-building revulsion had crested. CAUTION Macon was formed, largely with the moral and technical support of its Atlanta kin --- including Tom Marney, Jim Chapman and Mary Norwood --- and the financial backing of more than 1,000 Maconites.

The grass-roots organization mobilized quickly and effectively. Core members focused on specific topics. Scholl, for example, crunches traffic counts and growth projections. Rivers researches historical precedents. Susan Hanberry, a middle-school teacher, is the environmental whiz. The Internet is tapped for information about road battles across the country, as well as to keep CAUTION members and journalists informed (

Neighborhood associations and politicians were mobilized. In historic College Hill, neighbors tied hundreds of yellow ribbons around threatened magnolias. Similar acts of protest took place in the predominantly black neighborhood surrounding Jeff Davis/ Telfair Street.

CAUTION railed against poor planning, in general, and unfaithfulness to the county's land-use plan, in particular. The crux of CAUTION's discontent, though, was a feeling that the integrity of intown neighborhoods was being compromised to further suburban sprawl and the industrialization of Bibb County.

Justice, the chairman of the county commission the last 11 years, scoffs at CAUTION's assertion, insisting traffic counts and Macon's development as a regional job, entertainment, medical and educational hub justifies its road-building largesse.

"All this hoopla about sprawl is ridiculous," he says. "We don't want to see another Atlanta in Macon. But at the same time, we do want to see good, solid growth."

CAUTION, further miffed that some projects changed dramatically post-referendum, was fed up. A show of force was needed.

Roughly 1,000 people showed up for CAUTION's September 1998 kickoff rally in front of Macon's courthouse. Their grievances were many. But their immediate demands --- most of which were met --- were few.

They wanted nationally renowned and environmentally sensitive urban planner Walter Kulash hired as a consultant. They wanted finished road projects better landscaped. And they wanted only elected officials to serve on the road-building executive committee.

Even state officials complained of the lack of citizen participation.

In a November 1998 letter to Macon's mayor, former state historic preservation officer Mark Edwards wrote "there seems to be a lack of meaningful public participation in the local transportation planning process, at least concerning impacts to historic properties." Edwards later accused a top Georgia Department of Natural Resources official of "making a mockery out of the democratic process" in his "zeal" to build the Fall Line Freeway.

Bibb County's engineer acknowledges that public officials should've been more considerate of citizens' concerns.

"We had a lot of (input), but the timing may not have been the best," Fountain says. "If I could do it all over again, I would set up a system to bring in neighborhood (residents) at the very, very beginning of the project."

Unmollified, CAUTION decided to get tough. They needed a fight. They found one on Houston Road.

A crushing blow

Traffic is light along Houston ("How-stun") Road as a minivan full of CAUTION members wends through south Macon. They point out their homes, their churches, the pecan orchards and cotton fields. They ignore the yellow bulldozers, the scraped-flat fields and the powerfully sweet smell of uprooted trees.

CAUTION latched on to Houston Road as the most egregious of road-building projects. Prior to the referendum, residents were told that only a turn lane would be added to a 3.2-mile stretch of road. Post-referendum, they learned Houston would become a five-lane thoroughfare.

"Little by little, it went from two lanes to three lanes to five lanes," recalls Marilyn Meggs, a housewife-turned-activist. "They told us it was a done deal."

CAUTION filed a lawsuit last October to stop the $8 million Houston Road project. The group said the Georgia Department of Transportation failed to adequately consider the road's environmental impact. Kulash, who was hired by project manager Moreland Altobelli, testified against Houston Road, saying it would encourage strip development.

Kulash's switch fueled a conflict-of-interest charge lodged by the road-builders. They also said Kulash designed projects without a Georgia engineer's license --- even though he'd worked with them for months.

In February, a federal judge denied CAUTION's request to halt the Houston Road project. It was a crushing blow, but not a fatal one.

CAUTION is an undeniable force in Macon life. It has forced road-builders to scale back projects in working-class west Macon, upscale north Macon and historic downtown Macon.

Citizens in neighboring Monroe County now seek CAUTION's advice on ways to combat road projects. The nonprofit sponsors "smart growth" forums to gauge candidates' views.

It's investigating ways to legislatively ensure road-builders don't steamroll other smallish communities. CAUTION members know once Macon's fight ends, road-building battles will continue in other Georgia towns with growth-at-all-costs politicians and pliant, unsophisticated citizens.

"This is little ol' Macon," says Suzan Rivers. "If this is happening here, it's happening all over Georgia. Think how many neighborhoods all over Georgia are being destroyed."





Smart Growth and Intelligent Transportation Systems are the wave of the future for smart cities. Unfortunately Bibb County and the City Of Macon have not embraced that philosophy yet. Rail is the only thing they have looked at. They have NOT incorporated in a meaningful way, transit (the 2025 Transportation Plan devotes only one paragraph to transit!!), pedestrian, bicycling, or 'system planning' in their transportation plan. You might want to look at some of the web sites listed below. They might help you with a 'quick read' about transportation ideas, issues and policies:

- CAUTION Macon -