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County approves parkway concept
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Effingham County commissioners know the way they want to proceed with a revised Effingham Parkway plan. Who will pay for it remains to be seen.

Commissioners approved a concept report for the Effingham Parkway, which will be drastically smaller in scale and cost than the one proposed for the regional transportation special purpose local option sales tax. The new plan is for a two-lane highway to connect Blue Jay Road to Jimmy Deloach Parkway in Chatham County.

“We’re moving forward,” Chairman Wendall Kessler said.

Chatham leaders have committed to extend Benton Boulevard to Highway 30 in Chatham County, not far from the Monteith Road and Highway 30 intersection. Since Benton Boulevard stems from Jimmy Deloach Parkway, it would connect Jimmy Deloach to 30.

Concept development, design, right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation will be up to the county to complete, according to the concept report. Professional engineering and right-of-way acquisition is expected to cost nearly $5.3 million. Construction will run nearly $32.1 million.

The concept report shows the state Department of Transportation funding the construction and the environmental mitigation. But it is not included in the DOT’s statewide transportation improvement program, according to interim county administrator Toss Allen.

“It has not been committed to,” he said. “I don’t know if we will get the totality of that funding. However, we hope to get some of that from GDOT.”

Under the concept, the parkway would have two 12-foot lanes, along with six-foot bicycle lanes on each side. Those multi-modal lanes are required by the state Department of Transportation.

Five bridges over wetlands will have to be built, totaling nearly 1.25 miles. According to the concept report, no historic properties will be impacted and no homes or businesses will be displaced by the parkway.

The section of road from Highway 30 to Blue Jay Road is planned to be 6.36 miles long, with right- and left-turn lanes at the intersections with Highway 30 and Goshen and Blue Jay roads.

A north-south connector in Effingham was identified as a need as far back as 1998, and the Coastal Regional Development Center’s 2009 comprehensive economic development strategy identified the need for a new major transportation facility.

Part of the plan also is to avoid having to do a Federal Highway Administration environmental impact statement, which would lead to a lengthy timeline and an even bigger price tag, Allen said.

“The first thought was to use McCall Road as the northern portion from Blue Jay up, rather than do an alignment,” Allen said. “That takes about half the ecology out to begin with and simplifies that process.”

The Effingham Parkway proposal on the T-SPLOST list was going to cost nearly $134 million and called for a four-lane, limited access highway from Highway 119 to Highway 30, eventually connecting to Jimmy Deloach Parkway. The Effingham Parkway was seen as a way to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 21.

Allen urged commissioners to make the parkway part of the next list of projects when the county’s special purpose local option sales tax is up for a five-year renewal.

Another question Chatham County officials are researching is if Effingham County can spend any of its SPLOST proceeds on the project within Chatham’s boundaries.

The federal government earmarked $3.45 million in 2004-05 for a parkway connection between Highways 119 and 30.

Concept approval is scheduled to be completed by August, with an environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact to be completed by May 2016. Under the concept’s schedule, right-of-way authorization will begin in August 2016, and right-of-way certification will start in September 2017. The latter, Allen explained, shows what property the county has title to along the route and that it is clear to start work.

The project let date is scheduled for November 2017.