There is none so blind as he who will not see. We must not close our minds, we must let our thoughts be free.
— Ray Stevens
Albany City Commissioner Chris Pike, during a discussion of the proposed T-SPLOST projects that would impact the 14 counties located in Southwest Georgia, said recently — in a public forum — that he was not in favor of projects that would help Lee County at Albany and Dougherty County’s expense.
Some have complained that Pike’s comment illustrates a decline in the spirit of cooperation between the closely-linked neighbors, but that’s too kind a criticism. What Pike’s words actually show are (1) a lack of understanding of the state transportation proposal and (2) a thinly veiled attempt to push the Albany commission back in the direction of the race-based enmity that existed before current city leaders started to grasp the mutual benefits of reaching out to the rapidly expanding consumer base just across the county line.
Pike’s comments were in response to the release of a regional transportation projects list that would be utilized if voters in Southwest Georgia approve a 1 percent transportation special-purpose sales tax referendum in July of next year. A favorable vote could generate slightly less than a half-billion dollars for transportation projects in the region over the next decade.
One of those projects would extend Westover Boulevard northward to Ledo Road, dramatically cutting traffic flow on Nottingham Way in Albany, year after year the most dangerous thoroughfare in the city. The number of accidents on Nottingham is primarily attributable to the volume of daily traffic, a large percentage of it Lee County shoppers turning off Ledo Road onto the most logical access to northwest Albany’s primary shopping district.
The Westover Extension would be a convenient alternative to Nottingham for shoppers moving between northwest Albany and southwest Lee County’s major retail outlets, and it’s hard to imagine anyone in favor of progress and safety opposing such a project. In fact, it was Albany commissioners, eager to take advantage of the benefits of the project when it was initially introduced, who urged Lee County leaders to get behind the project in an effort to show regional support and thus enhance chances of getting Department of Transportation funding.
Someone also should clue Pike into the fact that the T-SPLOST vote is not just about Dougherty County and Albany. It is a regional tax, and thus will go to voters in all 14 of the counties impacted. Opposing a project like the Westover Extension because a neighboring county — a neighboring county whose citizens, it must be pointed out, spend only around 17 percent of every retail dollar in that county, according to the chairman of the county’s commissioners — would benefit from it is akin to the old cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face lunacy.
Push to defeat a vote that would benefit Lee County, and you’re also pushing to defeat a vote that would fund work on, say, four-laning State Highway 133 between Albany and Moultrie, a project seen as perhaps the most vital to Dougherty County’s future development.
Anti-Lee County sentiment was rife among Albany leaders in the 1970s and 1980s when Lee experienced a phenomenal growth spurt that had it listed among the fastest-growing counties in the nation. White flight was seen as the primary factor in Lee’s growth — initially a valid assessment — and the simmering resentment bubbled up among some of Albany’s elected officials when cooperation between the counties entered into a conversation.
Somewhere toward the middle of Lee’s expansion, though, more forward-thinking heads prevailed, and a spirit of mutual cooperation developed. Much of the credit for the new attitude would have to go to former Lee County Administrator Alan Ours, Dougherty Administrator Richard Crowdis and former Albany City Manager Al Lott. It has flourished in organizations like the Lee and Albany Area chambers of commerce, where CEOs Winston Oxford and Catherine Glover work together extensively on projects that are beneficial to both of their organizations’ members.
Certainly economics and race will remain major factors with any issue that impacts this region, and Lee and Dougherty counties’ shared history will also be a part of the equation. But to try and turn the clock back to a period of racial animosity because of a failure — or refusal — to consider broader implications is a step back that will benefit no one.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.