Project hits roadblock

Project hits roadblock

October 28th, 2009 by Andy Johns in News

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Mike Helton, Catoosa County manager, talks about plans for an industrial park on Highway 151 on Tuesday.

In August, Catoosa County officials and the local senator urged state officials to give a higher priority to a project for a road leading to the county's industrial park.

When the newest projects list was released this month, they were disappointed by the fruits of their labor.

"That project had fallen completely off of their list," said Catoosa County Manager Mike Helton.

Mr. Helton and the board of commissioners hope to lure a Volkswagen supplier to the Catoosa Commerce Center before the Chattanooga plant opens in 2011. But they say widening Georgia Highway 151 in front of the property is key to the park's appeal.

County officials said the highway work originally was scheduled to begin in 2011 or 2012, but over the summer, state officials pushed it back to 2018. Georgia faces a budget deficit near $3 billion, and state departments have slashed budgets across the board.

Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman Mohamed Arafa said dropping the project from the list was a housekeeping move because the project list only looks four years out. He said nothing has changed with the status of the 2.3-mile project.

"It's long, long range," he said, and once construction starts, the project will probably take 1 1/2 to two years.

Catoosa County Commissioner Dewayne Hill called for Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, to "step up to the plate and get this pushed through."

"He's been really good at helping Northwest Georgia before, and I'm sure he can help on this as well," said Mr. Hill, who represents part of the area where the work would be done.

Attempts to reach Sen. Mullis were unsuccessful, and messages left Friday, Monday and Tuesday were not returned.

Catoosa Commissioner Jim Cutler, whose district covers the other part of the highway project, said a widened highway would be a big plus for potential tenants but that officials face a conundrum.

The county wants the road project on the books to woo a client for its property, but Mr. Cutler said state officials have explained that it may take a commitment from a business to push the project up the list.

"It's kind of disappointing, but at the same time, GDOT has other projects," Mr. Cutler said. "I've been told they can always change their priorities."