Tuesday, October 27, 2015

U.S. 72 Extension and Relocation in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina

One thing that is truly missing across Appalachia and the Piedmont regions of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina is proper east-west connectivity.  This is especially true north of I-20.  In particular, many have expressed for years the total lack of an adequate route connecting Atlanta and Huntsville.  Only two choices exist: a congested surface route along US 431 from Anniston to Huntsville leaving I-20 or a northern route crossing the Cumberland Plateau along a collection of entirely poorly marked and inadequate highways.  Much of that traffic follows the northern route to avoid the congestion of the southern route.  While the construction of such a route is decades away, the bigger problem is that no clear route exists connecting the two cities.  However, Google Maps has laid that out for us, and this route is not lost on the truckers that already use it.  While currently inadequate for major traffic, it is still built to adequate standards to become a U.S. route: a plan that hopefully will also emphasize the need to invest more in the upgrades of this route as well as improving the horrible east-west connectivity across North Georgia.

In addition, an oddity exists extending from Athens, GA to Rock Hill, SC in that a tri-state highway exists that just happens to carry the route number of 72: a hint that perhaps planners envisioned an eastward extension of US 72 that never actually happened.  This is highlighted by the fact that the number does not change in two states and that Georgia in particular placed the route under high priority with substantial upgrades from Athens to the South Carolina border.  In between are several very major routes that inexplicably only carry state route numbers.  If this route does not justify an upgrade in status to U.S. highway, then what does?

U.S. 72 at present goes through Stevenson, AL connecting Chattanooga to Huntsville, but the real need present is to connect Huntsville to Atlanta.  A simple fix to this portion of U.S. 72, including the portion through Stevenson, can allow U.S. 72 to be relocated to a much longer route of much greater need through large portions of Georgia and South Carolina than the present route in use today.

The U.S. 72 extension is a practical plan that would be handled in four phases.  They are as follows:

  • The first relocates U.S. 72 in Northeast Alabama along several routes from Scottsboro to Adairsville in Georgia.
    • Existing U.S. 72 north of Scottsboro would then become an extension of another U.S. route that currently ends in a very random place: U.S. 74.  
  • The second extends U.S. 72 east from that terminus from Adairsville to Gainesville in Georgia transforming portions of GA 20 and almost all of GA 369 to a U.S. highway.
  • The third portion basically connects the route to GA 72 in Athens via an overlap with US 129.  It then changes GA 72 and SC 72 into US 72 extending the highway from Athens to I-77 in Rock Hill, SC.  
    • Due to GA's unusual rules with state overlaps of U.S. routes, GA 72 would become the unsigned state overlap equivalent (US 72/GA 72) thus creating the only instance where a U.S. and state overlap share the same number like it is in 46 other states.  
    • A portion of US 72 will need to be located on SC 121 meaning existing SC 72 into downtown Rock Hill will need to be reassigned as US 72 Spur.
  • The fourth portion would require new construction extending SC 72 to an eventual eastern terminus and reunion with US 74 in Monroe, NC.
    • This portion would likely be limited access and will require a new bridge over the Catawba River
    • It will most likely follow or parallel NC 75

The new U.S. 72 routing would follow the following routes:


This route would follow the following state routes:
  • AL 35 from existing U.S. 72 in Scottsboro to AL 40
  • AL 40 from AL 35 to AL 117
  • AL 117 from AL 40 to the Georgia State Line
  • GA 48 from the Alabama State Line to U.S. 27 in Summerville
  • Overlap with U.S. 27 from Summerville to GA 140 in Armuchee
  • GA 140 from U.S. 27 in Armuchee to I-75 in Adairsville

Looking at Adairsville to Huntsville (I-75 to Huntsville), the proposed U.S. 72 route is chosen by Google despite curves, hills and slower speeds than the alternative through Chattanooga (Image from Google Maps).

However, what is MORE striking is that when the route is extended to Atlanta, this route is STILL preferred over all other alternatives.  This means that these lowly state routes are in actuality carrying U.S. highway traffic (Image from Google Maps).


This route would follow the following state routes:
  • I-75 from GA 140 in Adairsville to GA 20 in Cartersville
  • GA 20 from I-75 in Cartersville to GA 369 near Lathemtown
  • All of GA 369 from GA 20 near Lathemtown to I-985 in Gainesville 

The route from Adairsville to Gainesville is clearly defined by Google matching up with typical truck routes of today.  It avoids windy GA 140 east of Adairsville instead following a portion of I-75 to Cartersville then following existing GA 20 and 369 to Gainesville (Image from Google Maps).


While less important than the two western legs, the need for the route extension further east is still viable.  It presents a badly needed east-west link for traffic as an alternative to traveling through Athens and as a means for bringing economic opportunity to parts of Northeast Georgia overlooked due to the lack of decent east-west routes.  The eastern phase also presents a unique and coincidental situation.  By sheer coincidence, GA 72 east of Athens is not only a major route but maintains its designation into South Carolina until its terminus in the southern suburbs of Charlotte.  U.S. 72 would ultimately assume this route replacing most of GA/SC 72 from Elberton eastward.

The route east of Gainesville is not so clearly defined, and part of this is due to a vital missing link east of Gainesville.  The connection and realignment of two county routes in Hall County would most likely correct this issue, but this does not necessarily mean that this correction is the most viable route.  Google analysis shows that three possible options are viable.  These options are:

  1. Route U.S. 72 along existing U.S. 129 to Athens then along all of GA 72 east of Athens meaning a full U.S. 72/GA 72 overlap.
  2. Route U.S. 72 along GA 98 from Maysville to Comer then along GA 72 east of Comer
  3. Route U.S. 72 along parts of GA 51 and 17 from Gainesville to Elberton in conjunction with other shorter routes.

Option 1:

The first option utilizes only existing state routes.  It follows:

  • U.S. 129 from GA 369 in Gainesville to GA 10 Loop in Athens
  • GA 10 Loop from U.S. 129 to U.S. 29
  • U.S. 29 from GA 10 Loop to GA 72
  • All of GA 72 east of U.S. 29 creating the coincidental U.S. 72/GA 72 overlap
This route is obviously the most simple to execute, but it has a distinct disadvantage in that it does not allow traffic to avoid Athens.  This means that U.S. 72 traffic would be forced into congestion related to Athens instead of by-passing it along less traveled routes through smaller cities and towns.  It is the least preferred option for that reason, but it does effectively establish all of GA 72 as a U.S. route as well as linking existing GA 72 to other routes.  In this plan, GA 316 should become the state overlap of all of U.S. 72 to avoid confusion and because the route would still be "Highway 72".

Option 2:

This option is probably the most logical route giving a completely direct east-west link with the fewest turns.  However, it does require substantial upgrades and intersection realignments where it passes through Hall County.  It also will require a renumbering of the westernmost portion of GA 72 between Athens and Comer.  It follows:
  • Old Cornelia Highway from I-985 to Joe Chandler Road (part of Old U.S. 23)
  • Joe Chandler Road from Old Cornelia Highway to GA 52 
  • GA 52 from Joe Chandler Road to GA 98 in Maysville
  • GA 98 from GA 52 in Maysville to GA 72 in Comer
  • GA 72 from GA 98/22 in Comer to South Carolina State Line

The GA 98 routing gives the most direct east-west route from Gainesville to Elberton helping drivers find a suitable alternate to driving through more congested Athens.  It also helps better locate larger cities such as Commerce and the small Madison County seat of Danielsville.  However, it faces limitations from the need for costly upgrades along the portion between Gainesville and Gillsville since the route follows existing county roads (Image from Google Maps).

Note that this route cannot be added as-is.  Several significant changes would have to be made to make it work.  First would be major upgrades to Joe Chandler Road.  This would include intersection realignments at GA 52 and Old U.S. 23 to make Joe Chandler Road the primary movement, lane widening on Joe Chandler Road, an intersection improvement with East Hall Road and completion of an already programmed bridge replacement.  In addition, both county sections would also become an extension/relocation of GA 98.  Also, two routes would have to be renumbered to make this work.  The first is existing GA 98 north of GA 52, which is recommended for a reassigned GA 207 (out of use for 30 years).  The second is the renumbering of existing GA 72 west of where U.S. 72 joins the route in Comer.  The route can no longer carry the GA 72 number under this plan due to excess confusion.  However, several good candidates are available.  These include:
  • GA 316 eastward extension along part of GA 10 Loop and all of GA 72 including the portions overlap with U.S. 72
  • Re-designation of GA 350 along all of GA 72 including the portions overlapped with U.S. 72
  • Re-designate the existing parts of GA 72 not included in the new U.S. route as U.S. 72 Spur
  • Designate existing GA 72 south of the proposed route and part of U.S. 129 west of Athens as U.S. 72 Alt
  • Extension and relocation of GA 53 along GA 316 and part of GA 10 Loop to overlap all of GA 72 including the portions overlapped with U.S. 72.  Existing GA 53 south of GA 316 could be renumbered or transferred to local maintenance.
Option 3:

This option is the northernmost option and would offer likely the greatest benefit as an east-west alternate route.  However, the existing roadways were not designed to carry an east-west route and would thus require substantial reconfiguration to make work.  Most of this would be west of I-85.  This route includes:
  • Old Cornelia Highway from I-985 to Joe Chandler Road (part of Old U.S. 23)
  • Joe Chandler Road from Old Cornelia Highway to GA 52
  • GA 52 from Joe Chandler Road to GA 323 in Gillsville
  • GA 323 from GA 52 in Gillsville to GA 51
  • GA 51 from GA 323 to GA 145 in Franklin Springs
  • GA 145 from GA 51 to US 29/GA 8 in Franklin Springs
  • Overlap with US 29/GA 8 from GA 145 to GA 17 in Royston
  • GA 17 from US 29 to GA 72 in Elberton

The GA 51 routing is considered because at present it recommends routing traffic along a long overlap with I-85.  While this is an acceptable option, it provides no benefit for communities near the route and dumps addition traffic onto I-85 that is already congested.  However, the route shown here does not consider using county road such as Joe Chandler Road.  The map below shows the same route with the modifications including distance and time to show the advantage especially after upgrades are made (Image from Google Maps).

The second map shows the GA 51 routing removing the barriers presented with routing traffic along an existing county road.  However, the upgrades required west of I-85 are significant and costly compared to the second option that includes only upgrades to Joe Chandler Road (Image from Google Maps).

In addition to the corrections along Joe Chandler Road, significant intersection realignments would be necessary to make this new routing work effectively, handle truck traffic and save time in comparison with other routes.  These upgrades would include:
  • Reconfiguration of intersection at GA 52 and GA 323 in Gillsville to make GA 323 the primary movement and/or construct a traffic circle.  If a higher speed option is chosen, this would require a short by-pass on the NW corner of the two routes.
  • Reconfiguration of the intersection of GA 51 and GA 323 creating a new roadway on the SE corner of the intersection between the two routes.  The new roadway would close the existing GA 323 east of that point and would make GA 323 the primary movement requiring GA 51 traffic to turn off of the new road
  • Realignment of GA 51 intersection at Historic Homer Highway (Old U.S. 441) in Homer to make GA 51 the primary movement
  • Construction of a traffic circle at the junction of GA 51 and 145 in Franklin Springs
  • An improved roadway connection in Royston possibly including the state takeover of Cook Street or a new southwest bypass
  • The construction of a full diamond interchange at GA 17 and 72 in Elberton

From Elberton, the route would continue along GA 72 eastward to the South Carolina line.  In South Carolina, the following takes place
  • Route in South Carolina follows all of existing SC 72 until SC 121 in Rock Hill
  • From there, U.S. 72 overlays existing SC 121 from existing SC 72 to its eastern terminus at U.S. 21 with an overlap of U.S. 21 to end at I-77.
    • Existing SC 72 into downtown Rock Hill would become U.S. 72 Spur
  • An eventual eastern extension may one day be possible to end at U.S. 74 in Monroe, NC via a new roadway connecting NC 75 to SC 122
    • This new roadway should be preferably limited access, especially on the new portions
    • A southern route connecting U.S. 21 east of I-77 to NC 75 may also be considered

The map above shows where US 72 would end in Rock Hill (following SC 72 and 121) and the proposed eastward extension.  The northern route in magenta following SC 122 connects the road as a surface highway to NC 72.  The southern route forking off of US 21 would be a freeway or expressway on new alignment ending at an interchange with US 74 east of Monroe.  This new route would create a southern connector from fast-growing Rock Hill to US 74 east of Charlotte.


Northern Georgia and Northern Alabama have been known for many years to have poor east-west connectivity and part of that is due to the lack of a single major route to prioritize upgrades along.  Travelers from Alabama to South Carolina north of Atlanta at present have not a single U.S. route other than mountainous U.S. 76 and rely on a confusing splicing of state routes.  In neither South Carolina nor Alabama have any corridors been developed along these routes with by-passes or four lane sections that are needed to better manage traffic leading to a lack of development along these corridors and dangerous traffic situations as large trucks are using inadequate roads.  This state routes have not been unified in any logical fashion, do not indicate badly needed turns, have not been upgraded in such a fashion to better manage long distance travel and receive weak funding priority due to their lowered status as regional state routes instead of major intrastate routes.  In addition, Georgia has also not added a single mainline U.S. route in over 50 years relying instead on state route "corridors" such as the 500 series GRIP corridors that do nothing but contribute to public confusion.  Fewer designations are needed, and major routes in the state should be part of the U.S. route system in the majority of cases with the GRIP designations dropped due to their needless overlaps of already present routes.  

In fact, the politics of GRIP corridors do not actually line up with route importance in this case.  While the Scottsboro to Adairsville route has the highest need, it has received low priority for improvements by both Alabama and Georgia who both effectively treat it as a regular surface state route.  For instance, GA 48 is shown as a minor arterial instead of major arterial and has received very low priority for upgrades.  In contrast, GA 72 from Athens to the South Carolina line is not only a GRIP corridor but shown as a major arterial.  Some portions are only classified major collector such as GA 369 in Forsyth and Cherokee Counties.  All portions of this route should be reclassified as major arterial along with a renumbering to U.S. 72.


Most of U.S. 72 north of Scottsboro does not follow a logical east-west direction before becoming essentially an unnecessary overlap with U.S. 41 and U.S. 64 in Jasper east of I-24.  In Chattanooga, U.S. 72 unceremoniously enters city streets terminating at the exact western terminus of U.S. 76: two east-west U.S. routes ending into each other!  It's a logical fallacy that came as a result of extending routes without thought as to where they would terminate.  U.S. 76 itself is mostly overlapped with U.S. 41 west of Dalton making it extend miles beyond its logical western terminus, so U.S. 74 makes the most sense to replace it.  U.S. 74 at present ends at the junction of I-75 and I-24, but it is not signed past its interchange with I-75 near Cleveland.  By signing U.S. 74 and extending it westward along I-24, U.S. 74 can easily and cheaply replace U.S. 72 between I-24 in Jasper and AL 35 (proposed U.S. 72 relocation) in Scottsboro.  Better yet, extending U.S. 74 effectively ties two APD corridors together: Corridor K and Corridor V.  In no way is the importance of Corridor V diminished, and in fact U.S. 74 becomes effectively a longer route tying Huntsville to Cleveland, TN through Chattanooga.  This extension effectively eliminates at least two logical fallacies leaving only U.S. 76 to correct (which will likely come later since a new route is planned from Dalton to Trenton that could carry U.S. 76 on a better route).  It also better unites two corridors that function much like surface interstate highways.

Corridor K and Corridor V can be linked together in a logical fashion by simply extending U.S. 74 westward along I-24 to take over U.S. 72 up to the relocated portion in Scottsboro (Image from Google Maps).


Moving U.S. 72 onto these major routes through Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina will only consolidate what people have already known for years, but the purpose will be better travel and hopefully greater emphasis on upgrading this very substantial yet substandard route.  Most sections of this route are long overdue for a major overhaul including four laning, interchanges, new by-pass sections and intersection relocations to better reflect traffic patterns.  Unclear routes also discourage economic activity in all of the cities along this route due to difficulties involved in shipping and commerce.  At this point, the plan is simply to add a number to existing roads, but the hope is that in the future it will improve the economies and connectivity of all cities along its route.  

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