Photo By MYRA THRIFT
The crowd at the Ware County Commission meeting was at capacity and running over Monday as opponents of the East Bypass turned out in force.
Crowd Rails Against East Bypass
By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
There is little doubt that a proposed bypass road here is unpopular. A great crowd turned out Monday at the Ware County Courthouse to voice displeasure for the Georgia DOT’s current plan for an East Bypass.
Hundreds of people attended the Ware County Commission’s work session. As many as could get into the meeting hall entered there, sitting, standing around the circumference of the large room. The throng spilled out, down the hall and into the lobby.
Except for one or two, they were there to let the commission know they are adamantly opposed to the location selected for the bypass. They fear that their neighborhoods, their privacy and their way of life will be hugely impacted if the road is allowed to be constructed on the proposed route, which would begin in Pierce County, cross the Satilla River, then cut through a now heavily populated region on the east side of Waycross including the area around Second Baptist Church, Tomberlin Road, Driggers Road and Aycock Road.
Ware County Commission Chairman Jimmy Brown told the group that the DOT has scheduled an open house meeting at Tremblin’ Earth Recreation Complex on Tuesday, Aug. 18, from 4 to 7 p.m. and that everyone is welcome to attend that meeting and let their voices be heard.
Commissioners were quick to point out to them that the commission has not planned the route and actually has “nothing to do with it.” The engineering and design have been done by the Georgia Department of Transportation, a move that has frustrated more than a few who live east of town.
Dr. Craig Kubik addressed the board and told them that the plan he sees is not a perimeter road by definition, that it is barely beyond the city limits of Waycross.
“This proposed road cuts directly through an established neighborhood,” said Kubik. “I have been here 17 years and have heard about the road but never anything official until 2011. At a meeting at Southside Church, a DOT map and the proposed route were presented. There was about 90 percent negative response. But it hasn’t changed DOT.
“Then in 2013 a meeting was held at Tremblin’ Earth Recreation Complex and again the response (from folks in the affected area) was overwhelmingly negative. Someone asked how much decrease in traffic would be seen on Morningside Drive and the DOT official said about 2 percent. Two percent. At that point, Morningside Drive will be a STOP sign and we will definitely have traffic problems.”
Kubik pointed out there was never any more than one survey done and only one route was ever selected — by one person.
“How can he have the authority to pick one route? It never made any sense to any of my neighbors,” said Kubik. “This road is going to cut right between Tommy Blount and Billy Gillis. I see a lot of damage done by this road.”
Kubik pointed out that a number of lots that were planned for homes will likely not see that construction, which will be a loss on the tax base.
Bill Mullis, pastor of Waycross Primitive Baptist Church and a resident of the area considered east of Waycross, turned in a petition with 148 signatures of people who are against construction of the road. He pointed out that a railroad overpass on State Street is much more seriously needed than the East Bypass.
“Many people will move away if this road takes their front yards,” said Mullis. He added that the city of Waycross voted to withdraw its support of the plan and he implored the county commission to do the same, saying, “You represent us. We are here to ask you to take a stand. We are tired of being pushed around.”
Commissioners then reiterated that they had nothing to do with the selection of the planned route.
Dr. Freddie Smith asked that the citizens wait until after the Aug. 18 meeting and listen to the DOT as they offer answers to the homeowners’ questions. He said at one time, some folks wanted to four-lane the roads in Cherokee Heights and Reid’s Pasture and called for an alternate route.
“It would be well to cooperate with them on these and think of the other issues — an overpass on State Street, finishing the widening of U.S. 84 — the DOT is going to have to help with these,” Smith said. “Let them explain and get a sense of cooperation so we can benefit from these other projects.”
Ben Wilson, a 90-year-old who lives in the Morningside Drive area (Jasmine Circle) told the commission that from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. traffic on Morningside Drive is “… like a funeral procession. Then after 6 p.m. Coral Road becomes a race track.”
He pointed out that it is nearly impossible to get on the road with the amount of traffic going by all of the intersections and called on them to put a three-way stop sign on Morningside.
“The traffic problems are awful,” Wilson said. “Something needs to be done to help Morningside.”
Tony Collins, a former DOT official, reminded the commission that a letter from the board in support of the project had been sent some years ago.
“This is not just about Waycross,” Collins said, pointing out that Douglas, Valdosta, Statesboro, many other cities have bypass roads that have been beneficial to their areas.
“This will give us the opportunity for growth,” said Collins. “This is not the first road DOT has built. We have to follow the process. The Waycross and Ware County population has declined. Growth has declined. There is no growth. This would bring growth.”