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Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Traffic fills I-75 near the Battlefield Parkway, Fort Oglethorpe Exit in Georgia.

A Chattanooga-area partnership has submitted suggestions to the Georgia Department of Transportation asking the state to consider North Georgia in plans for new commercial vehicle-only lanes slated for I-75.

The plans would remove commercial vehicles like tractor-trailers from general traffic and route trucks to a new two-lane road that runs parallel to the northbound side of the interstate, separated by a concrete barrier. The new road would span from middle Georgia, near the Macon area, to the southern part of Atlanta, about 41 miles.

"The project will benefit all motorists by improving safety and travel-time reliability, while also improving freight mobility to help maintain the state's competitiveness and economic growth," GDOT said in documents on its website.

But Thrive Regional Partnership — comprising stakeholders from 16 counties across northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee — thinks these proposals leave out vital portions of I-75 in the northern part of the state, up toward Tennessee.

Thrive is a tri-state organization focused on the Chattanooga area that works to collaborate with and convene various stakeholders to "ensure that as we grow in industry, prosperity, and population, we also preserve community and natural character for generations to come," according to its website.

One of the main goals of the consortium's suggestions for I-75 is to get the state to look into the feasibility of including commercial vehicle lanes in northwest Georgia in the current plans or in future projects, said Shannon Millsaps, Thrive's director of operations who also oversees the organization's Freight Mobility Coalition and Infrastructure impact area.

"We like to sort of step in and encourage organizations and government agencies to really take a regional approach and a cross-sector, multi-jurisdictional approach on how they do projects and how they plan," she said. "We recognize that the current GDOT project is not in our area, but we wanted to take that opportunity to shine some light on north Georgia and what we believe should be considerations there as well."

According to the Federal Highway Administration, commercial vehicle lanes could improve safety, quality of travel and general speed on roadways for passenger vehicles. They could also lead to fewer crashes, more efficiency and higher capacity for commercial vehicle transit.

Upon completion, the lanes in Georgia would likely be the first of this kind in the United States.

GDOT held a virtual community meeting on Dec. 2 to present its current plans and opened up a forum for comment from the public until Dec. 15. GDOT's website said the comments will be addressed within 60 days.

"We really wanted to take that opportunity to encourage GDOT to consider a similar study or to examine the benefit of adding [commercial vehicle lanes] to the I-75 corridor north of Atlanta into our area," Millsaps said, "because what we know about this area is that we are sort of the heart of 'freight alley.'"

In 2013, more than 30 million tons of freight — more than $36 billion worth of goods — were transported by truck in and out of the state through the northeast Georgia region largely via I-75, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Develpment.

Other suggestions Thrive submitted to GDOT include cross-sector collaboration to research better parking strategies for trucks when drivers take their mandatory breaks, increasing infrastructure for broadband internet access in rural communities, and working to ensure that new projects are environmentally friendly.

"Congestion on the interstate, bottlenecks [and] very limited amount of truck parking in this area leads to issues," Millsaps said. "We know that those are going to grow. This region is growing. More people are here and that's a great thing, [but] we do know that the current freight conditions that we see as problematic could become more significant as we go forward."

The initial stages of the current $1.8 billion I-75 project in middle Georgia started in 2018 with an environmental process that will last until 2022. The public information open house in early December was the second step. In 2021, more open houses and land procurement will begin.

After federal environmental approval in 2022 and developer selection in 2023, construction is slated to begin in 2024 and last until 2027.

These plans are part of the larger $11 billion Major Mobility Investment Program funded by the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 passed by the Georgia General Assembly.

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrathejournalist@gmail.com.

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