ATLANTA - State transportation officials have begun talking again about building an east-west highway north of Atlanta, four years after Gov. Sonny Perdue killed the controversial Northern Arc project.
But they're promising that whatever emerges from what are now preliminary discussions will bear little resemblance to the Lawrenceville-to-Cartersville proposal that became a major issue during the 2002 gubernatorial race and the subject of a lawsuit.
"I suspect the media will make anything we look at that involves any kind of east-west road north of Atlanta as we're bringing back the Northern Arc," said Mike Evans of Cumming, chairman of the State Transportation Board. "We'll have nothing to do with the old Northern Arc alignment."
The Northern Arc was conceived during the tenure of former Gov. Roy Barnes as a way to relieve traffic congestion along the top end of the Perimeter Highway around Atlanta and, farther north, as a quicker route between interstates 75 and 85 than Ga. Highway 20.
But the plan took the highway through affluent subdivisions full of people who could afford to raise a storm of political and legal opposition.
Politically, the Northern Arc helped galvanize opposition to Democrat Barnes' re-election bid.
On the legal front, an organization of the project's opponents hired a former Georgia attorney general, Republican Mike Bowers, who took their challenge all the way to the state Supreme Court.
But even with all of that hoopla, no one ever argued an east-west connector shouldn't be built somewhere north of Atlanta, DOT spokesman David Spear said.
"We've got to find a way to provide some east-west access, primarily for truck traffic to get between I-75 and I-85," he said.
Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Harold Linnenkohl told board members last week that he and his staff have been working on a new route north of where the Northern Arc would have run.
He said determining a path from I-75 over to Ga. Highway 400 wasn't difficult. But he said they're having a tough time plotting a course around Lake Lanier toward I-85.
"We're still scratching our heads," Linnenkohl said. "We have this beautiful lake. How do we go around it?"
Evans said DOT planners don't want to run the east-west connector south of the old Northern Arc route because those areas are so extensively developed that right of way acquisition would be both politically dicey and prohibitively expensive.
But moving very far north of the Northern Arc pathway would run into mountainous areas that drive up construction costs, he said.
Linnenkohl said he hopes to identify a possible route for board members and the public within two or three months.
- Staff writer Arielle Kass contributed to this report.