The number of big trucks on Highway 21 could be reduced significantly soon, according to state officials.
The state held a ribbon cutting for the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway Connector on Friday morning, opening the 3.1-mile stretch of road from Highway 307 to the parkway.
Opening the connector gives trucks a direct access from Interstate 95 to the port of Savannah and allows them to bypass more than three miles of Highway 21.
“This is the direct east-west link from the port to the interstate,” said Gov. Nathan Deal. “It will dramatically reduce the congestion and improve the safety on these roads.”
State officials anticipate the connector will provide more than 8,000 trucks each day a direct path to the port from I-95 and I-16. Trucks will avoid four traffic signals because of the connector.
“This is what we’ve been planning for and working for to help relieve some of the congestion and bring additional safety to the commute we all make back and forth to Savannah,” said state Rep. Jon Burns, the House of Representatives’ majority leader. “It’s going to make a major difference.”
Said State Transportation Board member Ann Purcell: “We’re committed to continuing our innovative efforts as we go forward with the highway systems throughout the state of Georgia.”
While the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway Extension is seen at first as an economic advantage for the state, leaders also are heralding the expected enhanced safety for drivers.
“When you mix passenger vehicles with transfer trucks,” the governor said, “the danger is significantly increased. So getting those trucks on to this highway will be a great safety improvement in my opinion.”
Georgia Ports Authority Chairman James Allgood said the new road will cut 11 minutes off the drive time for truckers and will boost safety for commuters.
“This is indeed a great project on any measure,” Gov. Deal added. “The need it will fill, the cost associated with it but more than anything else, it will facilitate safety for our citizens traveling on our other roads.”
Boost to port traffic
The connector will allow for easier traffic in and out of the ports but also will serve as a enticement for more shippers to call on the port, officials said.
“One of the things shippers look at is how long it takes to unload a vessel, how long does it take to get that cargo onto a transport and out of the port,” Deal said. “This will speed up that process. Keeping the shippers happy determines whether they’re going to come to the port in the first place. We have no reason to believe that is going to slow down. It is all the more urgent that we continue our deepening project and complete it as quickly as possible.”
The state has pledged $266 million to deepen the port of Savannah, taking it from a depth of 42 feet to 47 feet. Doing so will enable the larger ships that soon will transit the Panama Canal to berth at Savannah’s docks. Larger ships will bring more cargo containers, leading to more truck traffic in and out of the port.
Allgood said a dredge is already at work on the deepening, which could take another four years to complete. Opening a direct access from the port to an interstate gives Georgia and the Savannah port a tremendous advantage, he said.
“From the water to the dock to the customer, we see the big picture and we are ahead of the growth curve and we will stay ahead of our competitors,” Allgood said. “There is no other major port on the East Coast, or in the U.S. for that fact, with direct access to an interstate from a major container terminal. The completion of the parkway is an excellent example of how Georgia gets it when it comes to doing business.”
The connector allows trucks to bypass four traffic signals on Highway 21, and Deal boasted that one of the nation’s busiest interstates is now much closer to the port’s trucks.
“As you know, time truly is money in the trucking business,” he said.
The road was a design-build concept, including the right-of-way acquisition. Doing that, according to the state Department of Transportation, pushed the project ahead by two years. Value engineering shaved $2 million off the cost and the bid package led to another $8 million in cost reductions.
The state sold $100 million in bonds to back the project, which was done without federal assistance. The groundbreaking was held Oct. 17, 2013.
“It is a novel approach in the way we have packaged this project,” Deal said. “It is one that has allowed firms that have innovative ideas to build those ideas into their bid packages. Because of that, we have saved approximately $8 million on the cost of the project. It is a design and build project. Our success is beginning to get even more national attention.”
The passage of House Bill 170, the Transportation Investment Act, last year also helped make the connector a reality, Deal said.
“The state of Georgia has been able to do this project without having to use federal funds. That means a lot. That means we could a lot of the extra costs that federal requirements put upon us. It is the ability to have those extra funds through House Bill 170 that has made not only this project but many, many others in the future possible.”
Georgia has been ranked as the No. 1 state in which to do business for three consecutive years, officials pointed out, and Deal said he has made mobility a cornerstone of his administration.
“Connectivity is one of the characteristics and one of the criteria that we’re judged upon,” he said. “I promised you and the rest of the electorate that we were going to implement this vital and very necessary project. Today is the fulfillment of that promise. For a politician, it is always nice to say promises kept.”
While work began in earnest on the connector three years ago, its inception was more than 35 years ago.
“Any time you can get the local people united and working together, it’s a very important thing,” said the connector’s namesake Jimmy DeLoach, a former Chatham County commissioner who pushed for the project years ago. “We go back to 1980, when we realized the need for a road from Bloomingdale to the port area. I presented that to the county commission. I presented that to everybody — ‘let’s build a road around that we can move the trucks,’ and it’s finally a reality.”
The governor added there are 11 other major projects, including the modernization of the I-95/I-16 interchange, the widening of I-16 from I-516 to I-95 and the completion of the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway to I-16. Deal said that should be completed within the next five years.
“They are truly going to change the landscape of the state of Georgia,” he said.