Click here to read: State Sen. Mullis opposes selected 411 Connector route.
His June 28 letter to STB Chairman Rudy Bowen, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was the topic of discussion and surprise at Wednesday’s T-SPLOST committee meeting where regional officials were talking about possible funding for the long-awaited project.
Click here to see a copy of the letter.
That’s why he stepped in, Mullis said Thursday morning. He said the road project plans have lingered far too long and that it’s time to get it done.
“I am all for finding a good, economical, safe, efficient and quick route from Rome and Floyd County to I-75,” Mullis said. “The current route — they have been looking at it for years and years — is not a smart route.”
His list of concerns listed in the letter mirrors objections raised by the wealthy Rollins family, who own property in the path of the new road.
He says that while he agrees with their point of view he feels their tenaciousness in fighting the route legally is going to continue to jeopardize the project indefinitely.
“The family’s lawsuit will keep this tied up in litigation,” the senator said. He said there are about 700 lawsuits connected to DOT projects and that such litigation “can stretch into infinity.”
Mullis admits that his approach, without talking to Rome and Floyd County leaders about his opposition to approved route, has ruffled some feathers.
“I should have talked to the local leaders. That was my mistake.”
He says he’s not trying to delay the project, rather to get it going. He said the reason he was compelled to publicly step out on the issue now is that he “saw that it was going nowhere.”
He says he’s looking for a better solution.
“We can all find a way to get this job done quickly,” said Mullis. But he noted he has concerns about the $146 million construction cost for the project.
“My job is to make sure the taxpayers money is spent properly,” said Mullis, noting that some of the other proposed routes “can save tens of millions of dollars.”
When asked whether he has had any discussions with the Rollins family about the project, Mullis said, “Oh sure, I met with them a while ago and with Jeff Lewis (State Transportation Board member), but nothing recently.”
He also said he has not received any political contributions from the Rollins family “as far as I know.”
Mullis is the executive director for the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority that serves Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties. The family owns the Rollins Industrial Park on Ga. 151 in Ringgold and the senator says their paths cross from time to time in that capacity.
But he said the Rollins family is not his motivation for speaking up. Rather he says he wants a 411 Connector built as soon and possible and is tired of it dragging on.
“This would help so many counties in Northwest Georgia. I am motivated by getting that task completed,” he said. “I knew it would be years before we got any movement.
“So I took it upon myself to get it moving.”
He opposition comes right as state and regional transportation officials are talking about the project’s funding.
The project is on the draft list of projects proposed for funding through a 1-cent regional transportation sales tax.
State Transportation Planner Todd Long said the state would fund 50 percent of the $146 million construction cost if the regional tax provided the remaining $73 million.
The project has been on the wish list now for going on three decades.
The Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision approving the route on Oct. 29, 2008, but minor changes in 2009 opened the door for a new round of challenges from the Rollins family.
The state already owns 25 of the 90 or so parcels it needs for the project. The new initiative — including a community advisory board, public hearings and analysis of several potential routes — began in 2004. Consultants for the GDOT are revisiting those analyses while awaiting direction from the Federal Highway Administration.
Meanwhile, the Rollins family provided start-up funds for the Coalition for the Right Road, a nonprofit group that has attracted 411 Connector opponents concerned about the environment and a possible revival of the controversial Northern Arc project in the metro area that was killed in 2002 .