Wouldn't it be sweet if for once a destructive highway project were shouted down by conservatives and liberals, business leaders and environmentalists, politicians and pundits before it even got on the drawing board? Take for instance the proposed new interstate that would slash through the southern Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest en route from Knoxville to Savannah, Georgia? Wouldn't it be sweet if….
Too late, you're dreaming.
It's already ON the drawing board. I've seen the proposed route and you can too with a bit of googling. It slashes right through those beautiful, unspoiled mountains near Fontana, NC, tears a swatch out of the Cherokee National Forest, rips through Blount County and into Knoxville, potentially draining rivers of cars from points north, diverting them away from Atlanta on the way to Augusta and Savannah.
Some see I-3 as a bonanza for small Georgia towns. Others suggest it's needed to transport troops, munitions, hazardous fuels and more between government installations in places like Oak Ridge and Savannah. Skeptics see it as a way for Atlanta to drain off traffic congestion. The route I saw would trim few if any miles from the current popular route through Atlanta to coastal Georgia.
A sleepy little proposal from coastal politicians several years back to initiate a feasibility study for two interstates (the other, I-14 would slash across southern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi) grew to a $400,000 item in the U.S. House of Representatives this year, then mushroomed to $2.64 MILLION by the time it left the Senate last week as part of the pork-laden 2005 Highway Bill.
Suddenly we're talking serious money, folks. Interstate-3, which seemed like a distant loony-tune just a few months ago has grown into a Beethoven symphony. Who's that knocking at the door? Why it's Mr. Death to lots of wildlife, scenery, ancient homesteads and clean air here in the heart of a biosphere containing more kinds of life than areas of similar size on 95 percent of the planet.
Already the Smoky Mountains National Park has a reputation as one of the most endangered in the country, thanks to dirty air, acid rain, invasive pests and overuse. Here in East Tennessee, where I-40 and I-75 intersect as they crisscross the nation, and where I-81 veers north up the Appalachians, one more interstate is the last thing we need.
It's something people of all stripes who love our land can agree on. My conservative brother, Tim, recently copied an email to me that he'd written and passed along to regional movers and shakers. Here's part of what he wrote:
“I am a pilot and last Sunday I took some family and friends for a ride to view another controversial project, the windmill farm on Buffalo Mountain. My friends were amazed at the amount of brown haze in the air. I frequently fly all over the country and I have not seen another geographic area with skies as dirty as Knoxville. The last thing we need is more traffic passing through East Tennessee.”
Hear, hear, Tim. You got that right. Many others agree. I don't know anyone personally who supports the concept of I-3. Never mind. This idea isn't going away soon. Like too many other bad ideas, so much money and political clout and prestige are lining up that it's taken on a life of its own. I've read estimates that the project will cost $50 billion before it's finished, many years hence. Ask yourself, how many business leaders and government officials are calculating ways to get a piece of this action? Unless we fight this plan passionately and publicly, East Tennessee's greatest treasures, our beloved Smoky Mountains, our very air, will be even more degraded yet.
It's time our leaders stepped forward, stood together, and let it be known that we neither want nor need another interstate in East Tennessee.
People decry the Not In My Back Yard attitude, but when your backyard is paradise, you have not only a right but an obligation to protect it. And so do our leaders.
Call Congressman Duncan's office at 865-523-3772 and politely register your opposition. Call Sen. Frist's office at 865-637-4180. Call Sen. Alexander's office at 865-545-4253. Call Mayor Haslam's office at 865-215-2040. Urge them to stand united AGAINST Interstate 3.