The new bridge will replace an aging span across the river that state and local officials proclaim is too narrow. The state Department of Transportation held a ribbon cutting for the new bridge Thursday morning, though it’s not quite ready to take on traffic.
“We’re very excited and very excited for the opening,” said Ann Purcell, DOT board member for the 1stCongressional District. “One of the things is GDOT always stresses safety as a priority. This bridge was built 40, 45 years ago. It is not up to standards. It’s a very narrow bridge and we have a lot of truck traffic.”
Said Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie: “The old bridge was getting in bad shape.”
The new bridge, which is actually one longer span and another shorter stretch, will be 40 feet wide. It will have 12-foot wide lanes and eight-foot wide shoulders. The bridge it is replacing is only 24 feet wide.
“It was old when I was young,” state Rep. Bill Hitchens said of the bridge. “And this one is almost twice as big as the old one. Safety has always been a primary concern for me. There have been some horrible accidents on this bridge over the years.”
It is a heavily-used bridge, and DOT and law enforcement representatives noted how many trucks use the crossing as a means to get around the DOT weigh station nearby on Interstate 16.
“Highway 80 is one of our busiest state routes in Effingham County,” McDuffie said. “You see the trucks use this road to skirt around the weigh station.”
The two sections of bridge are about 1,300 feet and 180 feet long. They were built at a cost of approximately $8.3 million by Gregory Bridge Company.
“This is a great occasion for everyone on Highway 80,” said Don Grantham, the state DOT board member for the 12thCongressional District.
Officials also praised the effects of House Bill 170, which the General Assembly passed last session and Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law. The legislation changed how motor fuel taxes are collected and dispensed to the state DOT and it is expected to be a boon for the department.
“This was one of the primary reasons HB 170 was passed,” Purcell said, “so we can correct some of the bridge problems. You realize how narrow that bridge is when you’re going the opposite way.”
Purcell also thanked the state legislators for passing HB 170
“In my 18 years in the House, this bill might be the most important one we’ve passed,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens, the chairman of the House Economic Development Committee. “It is significant to public safety and it sends the right message to business in the future.”
State Rep. Jon Burns, the House majority leader and a former DOT board member, also lauded the board for its work in making dwindling resources work.
“The board has done an outstanding job with the resources to make sure the public in this state has safe roads and bridges,” he said. “It is just what we want — a safe structure for our traveling public to utilize, to make our school buses, moms and dads and children are safe.”
Burns also pointed out how important the bridge is to local commerce, especially for trucks coming in and out of the bustling Savannah port and to nearby paper and saw mills.
“This bridge only enhances the ability to move it and enhances the ability to move it safely,” he said.
HB 170 could mean as much as $1.2 billion to the DOT for road projects each year.
“The days ahead are going to be the brightest you’ve seen for transportation,” Purcell said.