Effingham County commissioners and development authority members are in agreement that the newly-formed transportation committee is the right path to take.
Members of the transportation committee met Tuesday morning for their first official get-together, going over such routine items as creating by-laws and talking with state Department of Transportation officials to get projects going.
“It’s just an effort to have everybody on one page,” Effingham IDA Chairman Chap Bennett said, “and to have a cohesive effort from all the parties involved. For three or four years, we’ve been working every angle we could on transportation. I’m glad the commissioners saw that and got ahead of the game. I think it’s going to help our county.”
Bennett and county commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler both said the initial meeting was good but there are some bumps ahead.
Currently, there is no member of the state transportation board to represent Effingham and the other counties that make up the 12th Congressional District. State transportation board districts are drawn along U.S. House of Representatives district lines.
Raybon Anderson of Statesboro stepped down as the 12th District member last month, and the state lawmakers whose own districts fall within the 12th District voted in one of their own members to fill his spot. But Bobby Parham (D-Milledgeville) is continuing to serve in the state House and can’t take his seat on the state transportation board until he gives up that elective post.
In the meantime, new state transportation board chairman Bill Kuhlke is filling in and has said he will meet with Effingham officials to discuss their projects, according to Zeigler and Bennett.
Zeigler said the transportation needs to be discussed with Kuhlke will range from traffic lights on Highway 21 to transportation enhancement grants for Guyton to the Effingham Parkway.
“Everybody’s voice is going to be heard,” Zeigler said.
The transportation committee is made up of representatives from the three municipalities, the county, the IDA and the school board and two citizen representatives, Allen Zipperer and Tommy Blewett.
A Census estimate released Wednesday puts Effingham County’s population at 52,060, a 38.7 percent jump from the count in the last official count, taken in 2000. The next official population count will be taken next year.
But with a population exceeding the 50,000 mark, Effingham is eligible to create its own metropolitan planning organization. Effingham is the 45th-fastest growing county in the nation, according to the Census Bureau, and one of 17 Georgia counties in the top 100.
As a county neighboring a larger county with its own MPO, Effingham could have joined Chatham County’s metropolitan planning organization. But with the transportation committee now having formed, and with the county population above the 50,000 waterline, Effingham officials are hoping to be able to have more of a hand in determining the fate of road projects in the county.
However, the state did deal Effingham a blow with the initial list of projects to be considered under the federal stimulus package. The IDA had pushed to have the I-16/Old River Road interchange done as part of that, but it was removed from the list, IDA CEO John Henry said. Instead, on the to-do list are two railroad crossings and two resurfacing projects, one on Highway 17 from Horseshoe Road to Highway 30 and also a stretch of Highway 80 from Arlington Road to approximately the intersection of 80 and 17.
“The DOT said I-16 was not shovel ready,” Henry said.
The project has been put on hold and remains in the DOT’s long-term work plan. Henry held out hope that if there is another round of stimulus programs that the I-16 interchange could be included.
“We thought it was ready to go,” he said. “How much louder can we scream that this is a priority.”