Georgia is a rapidly growing state. From 1990 to 2010, the population experienced almost 50 percent growth according to the US Census Bureau.
But outside of Atlanta, the state’s second tier cities are getting left behind. The Macon metropolitan area is losing population. Smaller, more rural cities are struggling, too.
Sandersville Mayor Jimmy Andrews told WGXA that it’s been hard for the area to retain young people.
"We don't have a whole lot you know,” said Andrews. “We have a lot of vacant homes here now."
In recent years, the completion of the Fall Line Freeway has helped. Using the road, people living in Washington County can now get to bigger cities like Macon and Augusta faster than ever before.
"A lot of people use it now because they have doctor appointments in Macon and the shopping out there,” Andrews said. “It's just been a big plus for us, you know?"
But, despite the new road, growth in the region remains stagnant.
"Our location, I think, hurts us as much as anything,” Andrews said.
At the other end of the freeway, Columbus has been slow to expand as well. Growth lags far behind the state average. One University of Georgia student, and Columbus native Frank Lumpkin thinks he’s found the solution: a proposed expansion of an interstate highway through Georgia.
“I came about interstate 14 while conducting some research for a senior project. Ever since then, I just had this gut feeling that this is going to change our region forever,” said Lumpkin.
Lumpkin started a group called the Youth Infrastructure Coalition back in high school to press for the expansion of the interstate through Georgia.
Right now, I-14 runs from Killeen, Texas to Belton, Texas - just a 30 mile stretch of road north of Austin. But it’s about to get much longer.
“Construction is currently taking place out in Texas,” Lumpkin said. “It is going to start soon in Mississippi and Louisiana.”
The proposed route through Georgia involves upgrading the existing Fall Line Freeway to interstate standards.
“Through the larger metropolitan areas, such as Columbus, Macon, and Augusta, you do have a lot of that infrastructure already in place,” Lumpkin said.
While that would be far less expensive than building a whole new interstate, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Transportation said the project would still be “incredibly costly.”
GDOT said the state could use federal money to fund a majority of the upgrade, but it would still be difficult to cover the remaining portion. The state’s transportation budget has already been set for years to come. To make Interstate 14 happen, GDOT would need to take the money from an already planned project.
GDOT told WGXA that they consider the fall line freeway “complete,” and don’t have plans to upgrade it anytime soon.
Even so, Lumpkin is still pushing for the road.
“This can affect our state. This can bring about positive change to the entire Southeast,” he said.
His group is lobbying Georgia congressmen for support. US Representative Drew Ferguson from Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District has joined the I-14 caucus to advocate for the road, and local governments along the proposed route have passed resolutions of support for the road.
Back in Sandersville, Mayor Andrews said he’s on board.
"An interstate running through here, it would grow things out along the interstate. We have plenty of room for expansion. I think that would enhance growth county wide and help our young people to maybe come back here and make a living and raise a family,” Andrews said.