Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

U.S. DOT declines Macon’s proposal to fix one of its deadliest roads – again

Gray Highway needs $4 million in work, but U.S. DOT twice rejected Macon’s proposals to fix it
Grant Blankenship | GPB News
Mika Shills crosses Spring Street in Macon with the red light going her way by about 20 yards from the crosswalk a few hours after another pedestrian was hit and killed near the same spot. Shills is careful about crossing Macon roadways on foot but says nowhere is really safe to do it. “They’ll speed up and try to hit you out here,” she said.

Improving safety along one of the deadliest stretches of road in Macon will cost millions but the U.S. Department of Transportation has so far been unwilling to help pay for it.

Gray Highway, part of U.S. 11, is among the deadliest thoroughfares for walkers and bikers in Bibb County. Cars and trucks zip quickly along the six-lane highway that cuts through some of the county’s most impoverished areas where many residents do not have a car.

Macon-Bibb County requested $4 million from the U.S. DOT to retrofit Gray Highway with added sidewalks, pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, improved lighting and marked crosswalks. Instead, the county received only $400,000, which can be used to plan safety improvements anywhere in the county.

News about the smaller grant award for planning was made public Wednesday evening at a meeting of the Macon Area Transportation Study when Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Director Michael Greenwald told the Citizen Advisory Committee the county did not get the funding it sought.

“It’s not like we have not been making good faith efforts and we’ve actually had some strong applications,” Greenwald said. “U.S. DOT has simply decided that they’re not going to put the money towards the projects we’re asking for.”

Macon-Bibb County has twice in the past two years applied unsuccessfully for federal grant money to retrofit Gray Highway.

The U.S. DOT federal grant program, called Safe Streets and Roads for All, is a five-yearslong, $5 billion discretionary grant program created in the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The grant program directs the U.S. DOT to make awards from 2022-26. About $2 billion in grants have been awarded so far, according to the U.S. DOT’s website.

Despite letters of support sent to U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg from Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff last year, neither of the county’s bids resulted in enough funding to tackle what the county described in its application as its top focus for transportation safety.

“The Gray Highway project cannot wait any longer as pedestrians continue to die along the corridor,” according to the county’s 2023 application. “Combined with being a major thoroughfare for log trucks, tractor-trailers, commuters, and tourists to all access both I-16 and I-75, this corridor is immensely dangerous and will be the highest priority for any funds received under this grant program.”

The highway is dotted with multi-family housing developments, retail stores, gas stations and fast food joints. Its shoulders are well-trodden by pedestrians, whose regular routes over the years have carved visibly distinct dirt paths called “desire lines” by transportation experts.

The county worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation on a road safety audit of the highway in 2016, but few if any of the safety improvements recommended as a result of the study have been implemented.

Middle Georgia Regional Commission’s planning director Greg Boike, who helped author the county’s 2023 application, said in an email Thursday the award is “not the amount needed to implement the full improvements as proposed” and it likely will be spent on “a refresh of the Vision Zero plan.”

The county adopted “Vision Zero,” a transportation safety strategy that aims to eventually eliminate traffic deaths and injuries, in 2020. Boike said U.S. DOT requires Vision Zero plans to be updated every five years for applicants to remain eligible for future such federal grants.

Some minor improvements are slated for Gray Highway that are unrelated to the federal grant. A plan for medianettes, which are smaller, thinner medians, along Gray Highway has been finalized and is set to go out to bid, GDOT spokesperson Gina Snider said in an email Thursday.

“Once the projects been bid and we have an executed contract with a contractor, we’ll be able to determine schedules, timeframes, final costs,” Snider said.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

More to Discover

Comments (1)

Comments are Closed.
All The Macon Newsroom Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest
  • A

    AmberJan 29, 2024 at 10:07 am

    Busy intersection like Pionono Ave or gray highway can use a bridge for pedestrians, so they can safely crossover without being hit or worse.