HAHIRA — Rep. Jay Shaw said Monday he has been meeting with representatives and engineers from the Georgia Department of Transportation and representatives of Hahira since 1994, planning and preparing for changes at Exit 29 off Interstate 75.

The GDOT has released preliminary plans for changes to the exit that they say are necessary to make the interchange safer and up-to-date with current design standards. Representatives from the GDOT met with Hahira residents Thursday to review the proposal and to allow resident to have a number of major concerns addressed and questions answered. It was evident at the meeting that the majority of those present were opposed to the project.

Shaw said he met with the DOT last week and met with project engineers before then and discussed the same plans he says were supposed to be completed before the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, although according to representatives from the GDOT, the planning stages of the project began in 1999.

“Hahira is in good shape,” Shaw said. “We have worked for them diligently, and we will continue to work for them. We won’t let anything come into Hahira until the citizens know what is going on.”

According to Shaw, Hahira is in a great position to enjoy the interstate because transportation is “the key to economic development.” Changes to the interchange are necessary in order to have an overpass that is wide enough and big enough to accommodate an interstate with three lanes across in both directions, said Shaw.

When asked what level of influence he may be able to have in convincing the GDOT to change the designation of Exit 29 from rural to urban, Shaw replied, “There’s no such thing. It’s in rural Georgia.”

However, according to the DOT project engineers at the Thursday meeting, the designation is the determining factor in the redesign.

Changing the current designation from rural to an urban exit would alter the necessary distances between the on and off ramps and the first road, greatly reducing the amount of land needed to be acquired by the state. This would reduce the number of residences and businesses affected by the project.

“This is good for Hahira in the long run, but we must work out the kinks people are concerned with,” Shaw stated. “There is nothing but a planning stage right now, that’s what it’s all about. They’re in the planning stages, and nothing is set in stone yet.”

Shaw added that the project plans have been in the works for years and that former Hahira mayors and Council members have been involved with the process the entire time.

At the meeting Thursday, DOT officials stated that the current plan was only unveiled to the city officials at a public information hearing in early September.

Shaw said Thursday’s informational meeting with the DOT conflicted with an already-scheduled event in Atlanta which prevented him from attending the meeting. He also added that he was not involved in the planning of the meeting and it was not “his” meeting to attend.

Though he was not present to listen to the major concerns of Hahira’s citizens, Shaw stated that he would not allow anything to come into the city which had the potential to cause harm.

The design at Exit 29 has not been altered for approximately 45 years, according to DOT District 4 Pre-Construction Engineer Brent Thomas. The outdated design produces inadequacies that must be addressed in order to increase safety including limited sight visibility and the close proximity of frontage roads to the actual interstate.

Main concerns raised by citizens include the loss of residential homes forcing a number of families to move, the limiting of access to businesses located near the interstate and the displacement of current businesses that provide 40 percent of the city’s tax base.

Details of the project include transforming the I-75 southbound ramps into a half-diamond design and the northbound ramps into a full diamond design. The project would also include a new bridge over the interstate.

In order to build the ramps according to current design standards they must be built larger and further out from the interstate causing the frontage roads nearby to be rerouted. According to design standards for a rural exit, the first road cannot be within 600 feet of the ramps.

Citizens are encouraged to submit comments to the DOT during the planning process. Written comments should be sent to Harvey D. Keepler, State Environmental/Location Engineer, Georgia Department of Transportation, 3993 Aviation Circle, Atlanta, Ga. 30336-1593. Comments can also be submitted online at www.dot.state.ga.us by clicking on the Public Outreach link.

Copies of the displays and plans are available online or at the GDOT Valdosta Area Office at 1411 Madison Highway or at Hahira City Hall.

The Valdosta Daily Times staff is expecting the opportunity to interview Sen. Tim Golden regarding a reported meeting with GDOT officials about the project in the coming days.

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