ATLANTA—The announcement was unexpected — but welcomed gladly
The long-awaited Effingham Parkway will be getting a major shot in the arm from the state, getting $44 million in funding, state Rep. Jon Burns announced Monday morning.
“I’m excited,” said Effingham County Commission Chairman Wendall Kessler. “Today has been one of the best days for Effingham County.”
Added State Transportation Board member Ann Purcell: “I’m very excited. How long have we waited for another way out of Effingham County? It’s a positive thing for Effingham County. It’s a great day.”
Burns’ announcement was a surprise to the contingent on hand for the annual Effingham Day at the Capitol. His news led to cheers from the gathered community representatives.
“I was caught off guard entirely and I couldn’t be happier,” said Effingham Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rick Lott.
Said Commissioner Vera Jones: “We’re very excited. It’s going to be great for the taxpayers, great for the drivers. People have been waiting for it for a long time. There’s nothing holding it up.”
“We had to get our arms around the expectations of House Bill 170,” Purcell said. “We are hoping to move many projects in the state up because the federal funds weren’t appropriated for it.”
Burns said HB 170, the transportation financing plan passed last year that changed the state’s fuel tax structure to an excise tax, gives Georgia “a fair, consistent, transparent revenue source: and will provide enough money for badly-needed bridge rehabilitation and resurfacing work across the state.
Under a proposal presented last year, the parkway’s end at Highway 30 would be 1.5 miles west of the Highway 21/30 split, just east of the Highway 30/Meinhard Road intersection. It would be 6.4 miles long, ending at Blue Jay Road about 3.2 miles west of Highway 21. The two-lane road is projected to have 12-foot lanes with 10-foot shoulders, and the right-of-way will be 80 feet.
At its intersection with Blue Jay, the parkway will tie into the east side of the road and will form a T intersection with the west side. There also will be right- and left-turn lanes at the parkway’s intersections with Highway 30, Goshen, Walter Tuten and Blue Jay roads.
The parkway, once a project that topped $100 million, was reduced in scale after the transportation special purpose local option sales tax failed in the 10-county region.
Work on the diverging diamond, expected to lessen congestion at the Highway 21/Interstate 95 intersection, could start in a few months and may be complete by January 2017.
Lott said the Chamber was beginning to gear up for another transportation tax campaign in order to build up the funding needed for the parkway. He pointed out the vast majority of Effingham residents leave the county each day for work, and their primary artery for travel is Highway 21.
“Three-fourths of our workforce does that every day,” he said. “If you’re in that line, you know how awful it is. It’s a wonderful thing to get to have that done. That and the diverging diamond ought to make life easier for us.”
Kessler also pointed out there are plans to six-lane I-95 from the I-16 junction east. That too could help Effingham motorists.
The parkway also could help spur the county’s economy, said Effingham Industrial Development Authority Chairman Chap Bennett.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “Not only will it relieve congestion on 21, it will open up the land the county has invested in for economic growth for years to come. It’s been a long time coming. I think about 13 years we’ve been working on getting the road. We’re very excited.”
Bennett added the state DOT praised Effingham leaders’ willingness to work together on the parkway and the work that had been done in advance of the announcement.
“It has come because our state delegation, our county commissioners, our development authority, our cities, have all worked together seriously the last five to seven years,” he said. “I think the DOT commissioner said it best — that determination all the way through all the problems we had to face, all that work, all that persistence has finally paid off. Our community will reap reward for that that. It’s been a collaborative effort.”
The parkway may require seven bridges to cross the wetlands on the route. Work on the road could begin by the start of 2017.
“Hopefully we’re going to start acquiring right-of-way by the end of the year,” Kessler said.