Columbia County commissioners meet Tuesday with officials from the Georgia Department of Transportation, and topic No. 1 on their agenda is the future of North Belair Road.
The DOT wants to destroy Belair by improving it, turning the residential road into a four-lane expressway. Columbia County Commissioner Jim Whitehead and state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, have heard the roads residents loud and clear; they want the road left alone, and an alternate route used to connect the already widened portions of Belair to Furys Ferry Road.
The big question mark is the other commissioners. They must decide how hard to push negotiations with the DOT, which holds the projects purse-strings. Those commissioners should listen to Harbin, who has it exactly right: If theyre not going to go the route that the people want, why dont they just take the money and go build some other road somewhere else?
How incredibly refreshing! Too often, county officials get caught up in the wheels of progress, fueled by state dollars promising endless pavement. But if ever there were a time to turn down the money - even if it means losing it altogether - Belair Road is that time.
The DOT hasnt yet definitively demanded the Belair Road route. In fact, one of the agencys bureaucrats tried to claim no decision on the road had been made at all, until he was informed that News-Times writer Preston Sparks had discovered DOT paperwork endorsing the Belair rerouting and widening.
Even though the DOT says the decision isnt final, their initial report makes it clear that engineers believe an alternate route for the project would be too expensive.
Fine. Then dont do it at all.
The DOT has, commendably, shown an increasing sensitivity to local opinion. Merchants, for example, successfully convinced the DOT to undo plans to split Davis Road with a concrete median.
Harbin and Whitehead have certainly heard the voices of Belair residents and the churches along the two-lane highway. In public meetings, those residents defended the rural nature of the Evans road, and questioned the need for an expressway to connect Furys Ferry to Belair. (For what? The DOT hasnt said.) With one voice, they opposed any changes to the road - other than a decrease in the speed limit.
The rest of Columbia Countys commissioners should listen to those residents, too, and like Harbin, tell the DOT: If the money is going to destroy part of Columbia County, just keep it.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.