The future of the Fall Line Freeway holds some possible major economic development opportunities for Milledgeville and Baldwin County, as well as neighboring Wilkinson County, local officials say.
Baldwin County Commissioner Henry R. Craig is one of them.
Since the closure of Central State Hospital several years ago, and the thousands of jobs that were lost there, the southside of Milledgeville has greatly declined in a lot of ways, Craig said. But brighter days could be ahead when the Fall Line Freeway is completed.
At least two local sites could potentially benefit greatly by the new highway. Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority (CSHLRA) is one of them, while the other one is the Fall Line Regional Development Authority (FLRDA).
“Our property will be four-lane connected to one of the busiest and growing seaports in our country, the Port in Savannah,” Craig said.
Located in the center of the state, Milledgeville and Baldwin County motorists, along with those living in Wilkinson County, who have partnered with locally to form the FLRDA, will have direct access to three interstate highways, I-16, I-95 and I-75, he explained.
In the future, a fourth interstate also could play a big role, I-20, which currently is accessible by going through Eatonton to Greensboro or from Eatonton to Madison.
“The greatest economic activity has historically been related to interstate routes across our state,” Craig said. “The property the FLRDA purchased is a crossroads of four lane connections, east, west, north and south. Not only is there a four lane connection, but just a few miles south of our property is a new railroad spur in McIntyre.”
In addition, the CSHLRDA is located just a few miles away from the new Fall Line Freeway, he pointed out.
“They are just a few miles from the intersection of the Fall Line Freeway at two different intersections,” Craig said.
He recalled that when Central State Hospital still had its doors open, and thousands of people working there, it was what he described as “the economic engine” for more than 150 years in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
“With it, went the greatest part of the southside of our town,” Craig lamented. “No part of our town was affected with the closure of CSH more than the southside. The economic slide… is tragic.”
Craig, who attends every meeting of the CSHLRDA and who is a graduate of the Georgia Academy for Economic Development, said the new Fall Line Freeway could be the game changer as far as the southside of Milledgeville is concerned within the next 10 years.
“If the south side grows, our entire community is the winner,” Craig said.
The county commissioner said he had read a lengthy evaluation report from the Counselors of Real Estate (CRE), which was created for members of the CSHLRDA. The CRE is an internationally known organization that works on some of the most exotic economic development projects in the country. Craig said he spent time with them and listened to their exit briefing
“In that report, the Fall Line Freeway, in conjunction with CSH property, has the potential to be our community’s game-changer,” Craig said.
He believes that the residents of Milledgeville and Baldwin County are fortunate to have three development authorities. They include CSHLRDA, FLRDA, and Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority (MBCDA)
“They are all very important to the potential of our community,” Craig said. “In my opinion, watch the Fall Line project, and the CSHLRDA. The CSHLRDA has made some impressive progress. The stars are aligning for great partnerships and possibilities. Hopefully, those potential partnerships may include all three development authorities, FLRDA, MBCDA and CSHLRDA. They have great potential.”
Because the southside of the Milledgeville has endured great decline in recent years, Craig believes the Fall Line Freeway could be the catalyst of great change for many local families.
As the freeway gets closer and closer to being completed, so does a major county water project.
A 12-inch water line is nearing completion to the border of the FLRDA property, he said.
“As we move resources towards the FLRDA property, everybody in the area benefits,” Craig said. “As an example, the new water line down U.S. 441 to the FLRDA property improves the utility services to all our families and businesses.”
Internal discussions are already underway too, concerning sewer possibilities, as well as natural gas to the site, he added.
“The FLRDA has authorized the first engineering evaluation on the property, and work has started,” Craig said. “We are making the first steps. We are all very optimistic.”