This is a story about some ordinary Americans who are tired of no one listening to them about their own Macon, Georgia neighborhood. So they took to the streets and then directly confronted their elected officials head on. These folks were ticked off about the county plans for a street which runs right past where they live. It wasn't so much that they didn't think something needed to be done (at least early on) to improve the road, it was that no one seemed concerned with what they thought about it.
These folks have the tough luck of livening in a quiet neighborhood which now lies in between two busy streets, and transportation "experts" have decided those main roads need to be connected.
The current plan, which officials said has been altered three times from its original proposal, calls for the two-lane road to be widened into three- and four-lane sections based on Department of Transportation (DOT) traffic counts with data that has varied widely.
Opponents of the project have argued that if it is to be built it should be redesigned to lessen its impact on local neighborhoods. Some community activists also have said the project should include roundabouts, which they think would be safer than standard intersections. Residents feel that not only will the road make their neighborhood less cosy and destroy beautiful trees, but it also will create dangerous conditions for elementary school children.
Residents recently argued that the project should be abandoned because it isn't necessary anymore, given that its original intent was to help traffic flow more easily to Macon Mall, which they say is losing visitors.
They think the County Commission is wasting their money.
At a County Commission meeting where residents took on their elected officials, Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, trying to act like he cared, claimed the commisoners were "powerless" to do anything even after the County Attorney, Virgil Adams assured neighborhood resident Joe Allen that the Bibb County Commission always has the power to "change or stop" the Forest Hill Road projects.
On a web site dedicated to the debate, one person writes:
"I have watched this road project for a long time. If there ever was a time to re-think a road project this is it. The DOT has got to be responsive to the wants of the citizens. This is an incredible waste of taxpayer money. The chairman of the county commission apparently thinks any road project tossed our way is a good thing. Never mind the terrible cost to the city and county when whole sections of neighborhoods are destroyed, property values in all surrounding areas crash and people flee for surrounding counties. We can ill afford to lose anymore intact functional neighborhoods for the sake of a superhighway to nowhere. It is ok to change your mind Comm. Bishop. The citizens of this county would see you as a positive, forward thinking, neighborhood loving county commissioner who isn't afraid to re-evaluate a position when better ideas come along. It is not too late!"
Unfortunately few elected officials concern themselves all that much with some yokels who stand in the way of what they say is"progress."
Most of the time people just roll over, but these feisty southerners are to be commended for deciding they just aren't going to take it anymore. These are not a bunch of loonies. These are just folk with a little common sense who have offered numerous compromises of their own, who are tired of paying for projects they feel are wasteful, and being overridden time and again by experts and officials.
They want their opinions to matter.
Jack Castle who lives in the neighborhood went to that County Commission meeting the other night. He spoke for many when he wrote in a letter to the local paper:
"I have just come from the Bibb County Commission meeting. It is rare that I am disappointed as much as I am at this moment.
The blatant disregard these representatives of the people have for the people is very disheartening. The Forest Hill Road project has been around a long time, but so have the objections.
It is so sad that certain commissioners put their own egos ahead of the wishes of those who elected them (but won't the next time)."
Jack, we've all been there and we're all with you.
The following is from WMAZ in Macon, Georgia.
Protesters Slam Road Widening
Protesters of the Forest Hill Road expansion project gathered in front of the Bibb County Courthouse Tuesday evening to voice their concerns.
Some carried signs and shouted to drivers passing by, while others took a more extreme approach, dressing up to make their point.
Lindsay Holliday, whose father was killed on Forest Hill Road in a January accident, says he's not against making changes to the road. However, he does want the city and county to listen to what the people have to say instead of the state department of transportation.
Currently, the DOT wants to look over paperwork that outlines expansion of the road.
Holliday says he and other protesters want to preserve their neighborhood while improving traffic flow.
"This is a deciding issue," said Holliday. "The voters are infuriated that the city's wasting millions of dollars to destroy an established neighborhood instead of fixing the traffic problem on Forest Hill Road."
Many of the protesters then went inside the courthouse to attend a Bibb County Commission meeting on the Forest Hill Road expansion project.
They took turns speaking to the commission about why they thought widening the road would hurt their community.
Commissioner Joe Allen says he supports looking into alternative ways to improve traffic on the road rather than following the state DOT's proposal.
Chairman Charlie Bishop says he believes the DOT's $15 million expansion project will improve existing conditions and speed traffic to the new North Macon shopping areas.
One woman who spoke to both commissioners says she's proud of all the people who want to get involved in the Forest Hill Road debate.
"It makes me feel validated," said Susan Hanberry Martin, who lives in the Forest Hill neighborhood. "I think that we have a strong vibrant community and people are willing to fight for it."
Bibb County commissioners say they'll consider setting up a meeting with members of the Forest Hill Road community to discuss the proposed widening project in detail next week.