Friday was a big day for those who have fought to protect Interstate-185 from what they call "visual pollution."
A 39-mile stretch of the road from Exit 12 in North Columbus to where it connects with I-85 in Troup County has been designated a Scenic Byway by the Georgia Department of Transportation Board.
Retired Columbus banker Sam Wellborn, a longtime DOT board member, has been fighting for the designation and the protection that comes with it for more than two years. He was blunt during a rainy morning celebration that drew political and business leaders from the Chattahoochee Valley and Atlanta.
"I'm not totally against billboards," Wellborn said. "But I am totally against billboards on I-185. There's not one now and there never will be."
The Scenic Byway designation, which was approved by the DOT board on Thursday, all but guarantees that. I-185 becomes the 12th Georgia road to gain the designation since it became Federal law in 1991.
Columbus developer John Flournoy, through his Gateway Project, has been a champion of I-185 and roadside beautification projects on the major routes leading into Columbus. He said don't underestimate what the designation means.
"In the next five years — if not today — this is going to be one of the most beautiful highways in America," Flournoy said.
Outgoing DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl was given a lot of credit for backing the beautification of I-185 by Flournoy and Wellborn. The project was sponsored by the Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission.