A look south down I-75 in Bartow County

A look south down I-75 in Bartow County. The highway route was never considered as a possibility to come through Rome, contrary to urban legend that Rome leaders did not want the highway decades ago. / Doug Walker

"It was never coming here ever, ever, anyway," said longtime leader Frank Barron Jr.

"Before anybody really realized it, the interstate was dedicated through Rocky Face," Barron said. "You knew it was going to go from Chattanooga to Atlanta through Marietta, that was a given. If you draw a straight line from that point, Rome was 25 miles away at the closest point. To swing the Interstate west enough to go through Rome would have added X numbers of miles and that was not going to happen."

Barron added that if that had happened, the people in Dalton and Calhoun would have been screaming at the top of their lungs. He said at the time, the 1960s, both Dalton and Calhoun were at the heart of the textile industry and considerably more influential than Rome.

The real issue back in the 1960s was where the interstate was going to align as it relates to Lake Allatoona. At the time, the original alignment essentially took the highway straight across Allatoona, requiring seven bridges.

Barron, whose family had Coca-Cola Bottling operations from Dalton to Valdosta at the time, was acutely aware of the impact of the highway on cities up and down Georgia. He saw migration of business from Quitman and Lakeland, even Valdosta itself to a lesser degree, after the highway was opened in South Georgia. Barron had a plant in Fort Valley and said so much of what was a thriving little town was lost to Perry to get closer to where the traffic was.

"Perry was just a little hamlet over there," Barron said.

Barron said a common argument in those days was a lot of folks would say you don't want the interstate coming through town because it would ruin downtown shopping districts.

"Well, brother, get ready. It's going to ruin your downtown industry if it doesn't come through there because service stations, motels, eating places, are all going to go where the grapes (traffic) are," Barron said.

Barron lined up with a group that wanted to bring the interstate as far to the west as was reasonably possible. He cites a couple of reasons that both are critical issues to highway construction today — economics and ecological concerns.

A group led by Barron's father and uncle, hired Hugh Parks Rusk, the brother of former Secretary of State Dean Rusk and retired journalist, to help them coordinate an effort to fight the location of the highway across the lake route.

"We formed a little organization, it was called ‘Save Lake Allatoona,’" Barron said. He said many of the folks in Cartersville were ambivalent about the route, some thought it would be a scenic drive, others worried about the impact on downtown Cartersville if the highway was moved to the west.

In those days, a number of prominent Romans had boats and spent a lot of time on Allatoona. The group enlisted Shorter Professor Philip Greear and Eugene Odum at the University of Georgia to mount a campaign that was based on the negative ecological impact the highway would have on the lake.

"Bert (Lance) was appointed and accepted the job as commissioner of the highway department," Barron said. "Bert was hesitant to do that at first because he thought the feds knew what they were doing. He, of his own will, decided it was time for an ecological survey or ecological impact study be made."

When that study was undertaken, it ultimately resulted in a decision in June of 1971 to move the highway maybe eight to ten miles to the west. David Vaughn, a former state representative in Cartersville and later district attorney said, "It had to do with the kind of fish they found in Allatoona, that they found it was going to disturb," Vaughn said. "But that had nothing to do with folks in Rome."

An article in the Cartersville Daily Tribune News on June 25, 1971, reports that decision was revealed by Lance during a press conference at the State Highway Department offices in Atlanta. The story indicates the change of alignment would save taxpayers $11 million, primarily from the cost of bridge construction.

Lance had to break away from his press conference to take a call from U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary John Volpe, who Lance later said was "delighted" by the change of route, according to the DTN article.

Barron said the decision saved the environmental sanctity of Lake Allatoona and made Cartersville and Bartow County the growth county that it is now.

“All you've got to do is go over there and it's larger than we are now," Barron said. "It benefited Rome because it pulled the interstate closer to Rome, not a whole lot closer, but better than it was going to be."

Vaughn said that at the time, folks in Cartersville were discussing two or three potential routes for the highway, but all of them were in Bartow County. The route that was ultimately chosen was officially referred to as "Line T," but locals often called it the "Greear route."

"I doubt that you'd find anybody in Cartersville today that would say ‘I wish that thing would go away,’" Barron said.

So how did the legend that Rome isn't on the interstate because local leaders didn't want it evolve?

Barron said, "People don't pay attention. Sometimes when you're on the wrong end of a situation, which we are, we're not on the interstate, it's very easy to blame somebody."

He cited two other examples of the original interstate system by-passing communities that thought they should be on it, Gainesville and Columbus. He said Gainesville had the clout both in Atlanta and Hall County, to get a connection. Columbus was able to connect because of Fort Benning.

Rome has battled for almost four decades to get a connection to the interstate. Originally, Barron said the leadership in Cartersville was not interested in giving up part of their tax base for Rome to get a connection, then when it appeared that the issue had been resolved, the Rollins family was able to block the project.

Just a couple of years ago, Bartow Commissioner Steve Taylor got on board with the latest proposed alignment, largely because it would tie directly into a potential mega-site for industrial development just north of the Budweiser plant.

The Citizens Advisory committee for the Rome-Cartersville Economic Development Corridor, as it now is known, will meet Monday night to get the latest update on the status of that project.