Much noise has been made in recent months about the need for some sort of relief to Atlanta’s Interstate 285 (a.k.a.”The Perimeter”). In the mid-1990s, a project known as the “Outer Perimeter” was proposed by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), which would have easily been the largest beltway ever built in the United States. Following massive community outcry and protests from environmental groups, the project was officially scrapped in late 1990s.
In 2007, GDOT revived a far less ambitious plan for the highway, known as Georgia State Road 500, or the “Northern Arc.” The logic behind this new routing was that it would relieve some of the most traffic-choked parts of the Atlanta freeway system; namely, the stretch of Interstate 285 between Interstates 75 and 85 on the north side of the city. While the proposal remains on the books, there also remains fierce opposition to any highway crossing the region. Much of this opposition stems from fear of sprawl created by the new highway, as well the environment impact on mountainous areas considered a pristine natural treasure.
Despite the outcry of environmental groups and local communities opposed to potential sprawl, what may kill this project once and for all may be a lack of cash. A 2001 study published by the DOT indicated the cost of the project would be close to $2 billion. Even with a drop in property values following the 2008 recession, the cost of right-of-way and construction would like be far higher if inflation were taken into account. Despite the DOT’s best efforts at promotion, this project faces an uphill battle when considering other such projects:
- Birmingham’s Northern Beltline: This project, intended to be signed Interstate 422, has run into some protests from community activists, as well as concerns over its steep price tag – $700 million. While not nearly as steep at the estimated $2 billion cost of the Outer Perimeter, Alabama’s tax coffers are not nearly as flush as Georgia’s, and federal funds are considered highly unlikely for the project.
- Tampa Bay Beltway: Considered dead on arrival, this proposal was decried as a payback to developers who befriended the members of the coalition proposing the 80-plus mile long toll highway. Worst still, this route would have actually closely paralleled its intended relief target, Interstate 75 in eastern Hillsborough County, and would have ended at U.S. Highway 19 in northern Pinellas County, providing scant relief to an area already well served by local highways and toll roads.
- Cincinnati Outer Beltway: Unofficially known as Interstate 875, this gigantic ring was scrapped in favor a smaller, less ambitious Northern Kentucky Outer Loop, which would become part of the proposed I-74 corridor linking Cincinnati to North Carolina.
- Nashville Outerbelt: The southern half of this highway, Tennessee 840, has been completed, but at a steep price. As a result the northern half is likely to never be built. The Tennessee State Assembly ordered the project ended because it simply can’t afford the price tag.
- Houston’s Grand Parkway (SR 99): They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the Grand Parkway will take the cake as America’s longest beltway, being the third and final ring around Houston. Environmental concerns and toll costs have already roused opposition to the highway, which, after 20 years, is still under construction.