Proposed Interstate 3 Project

The Proposed I-3 Project in North Georgia, Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee: A Summary and Recommendation

Recommendation that the CMC join ATC in formal opposition to I-3

The Conservation Committee recommends that the Carolina Mountain Club adopt the following position on the proposed I-3 highway construction: “The Carolina Mountain Club opposes construction of the proposed Interstate 3 through the mountains of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia.”

The Conservation Committee recommends that the CMC oppose the highway because:

The highway would cross the Appalachian and Benton MacKaye Trails and adversely impact view sheds from the upper ridges crossed by these trails. The highway would adversely impact the overall environmental health of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by increasing air pollution and urban sprawl.

The Conservation Committee also recommends that the CMC join the “Stop I-3 Coalition.”

Project scope 

It is proposed to build an Interstate highway (I-3) between Savannah, Georgia and Knoxville, Tennessee by way of north Georgia and western North Carolina. The stated purpose is to facilitate more efficient travel by tourists and commercial truckers by permitting travel around Atlanta. 

History and background 

The idea of building an interstate highway through the north Georgia mountains had been discussed since the 1960’s. In 2004 Representative Charlie Norwood (R- Georgia) introduced bill HR 301 during the 109th Congress following in the wake of earlier, unsuccessful legislation introduced by other Georgia politicians. This bill required the US Department of Transportation to produce a feasibility study for a new Interstate between Savannah, Georgia and Knoxville, Tennessee to be built largely on the route of existing highways. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate as S 459. Following conferencing and amendments the legislation was passed and funded in the amount of $1.3M as part of the Transportation Equity Act of 2005.  The key items in the legislation provide funding to the Secretary of Transportation by December 31, 2005 in order to:
Carry out a study and submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report that describes the steps and estimated funding necessary to designate and construct a route for the 3rd Infantry Division Highway, extending from Savannah, Georgia, to Knoxville, Tennessee, by way of Augusta, Georgia (formerly the Savannah River Parkway in the State of Georgia).

Background material on the legislative process and the resulting legislation and funding are available on the Stop Interstate 3! website at  http://www.stopi3.org/research/leginit.html

Expected impact

Economic, social and environmental Impact from Interstate construction and usage has been well documented in several studies. Links to several of these are available at  http://www.stopi3.org/research.html.  

Implications for Hiking and Outdoor Recreation

The proposed route of the new road would take it through the north Georgia mountains near the town of Hiawassee where it would cross the Appalachian Trail at Unicoi Gap. The route would also cross the Benton MacKaye Trail farther to the west. Both trails would have to be rerouted to cross a multi-lane, controlled-access highway. Hikers would be severely impacted by noise and air pollution from the highway for a considerable distance on either side of the corridor. The highway would intrude upon rural viewsheds from the higher elevations crossed by these trails. Anticipated development along the Interstate would impact the trail character and that of nearby rural communities. Urban sprawl and second home development would further impact the trail corridors and potentially lead to overuse of the trails and associated facilities.  The proposed highway would also affect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Chattahoochee and Nantahala National Forests. Several federal Wilderness areas are adjacent to the corridor. It is possible that the road would be routed through a section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A comprehensive list of natural areas that would be impacted is available at http://www.stopi3.org/research/enviro_impacts.html

Opposition to the road

Several groups, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, have come forward in opposition to the road under the umbrella of the “Stop I-3 Coalition” A list of supporting organizations is available at http://www.stopi3.org/members.html.   Action so far has consisted of a series of public meetings together with letters to editors, press releases and position papers. The Coalition seeks to coordinate grassroots efforts aimed at blocking construction of I-3.  Opposition to the proposed road has been strong not only in north Georgia but in Tennessee and western North Carolina. Many newspapers have published editorials opposing the road including the St. Petersburg Times, Savannah Morning News, and the Gainesville (Georgia) Times. The principal support for the road has come from the three US senators who proposed the legislation and made sure funding was included in the transportation bill. Local officials and residents of the towns within the Interstate corridor are overwhelmingly opposed to the road, citing impacts on tourism, rural lifestyles, and the unique natural environment of the north Georgia mountains. 

Trail community positions

The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) was the first hiking club to oppose the proposed road. GATC has a long history of working to protect the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. It has successfully fought proposals to extend the Blue Ridge Parkway along the Trail route as well as other projects with potential to impact the AT.   More recently other hiking and conservation groups have joined in opposing the road. These include the Mountain High Hikers Club, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, the Western North Carolina Alliance, and several chapters of Trout Unlimited.   The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has adopted I-3 opposition as a major issue. 

Conclusion 

From the information publicly available it appears that this is a classic “pork barrel” project intended to benefit corporate interests with ties to the construction industry. Communities along the proposed route have not voiced strong support for the project. In fact, most seek to preserve their rural quality of life which currently draws tourists and outdoor recreationists to the area. A well-run grassroots campaign against the road would seem to have a strong chance for success, especially if adequate fundraising is able to support media advertising and informational campaigns.