The Savannah Coastal Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold a final public meeting on potential improvements to Highway 21.
The meeting will be held Thursday at the Georgia Tech-Savannah campus from 5-7 p.m.
The CORE MPO has been conducting a Highway 21 corridor study, which is evaluating ways to lessen the congestion, accommodate future traffic, improve safety and also allow for better access to the port. Highway 21, the CORE MPO pointed out, provides access to major industries and the port of Savannah and is a major commuter artery for Effingham County residents.
Of outlying counties, Effingham has the most residents who are employed in Chatham County. Public comments from the first meeting held on the Highway 21 corridor nearly three years ago called the route between Garden City and Rincon “total chaos.”
Traffic along 21 is expected to increase, with both Effingham and Chatham counties projected to grow and the volume of large trucks coming in and out of the port also anticipated to boom.
One of the ideas to improve the northern section of Highway 21, from the Effingham line to the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway, calls for elevated lanes. As proposed, four elevated lanes would be built on 21 from north of its intersection with Highway 30 to Interstate 516.
The elevated lanes, if approved and built, would be 35 feet above the current road.
Other potential avenues for improvements evaluated included widening, a flyover at I-95 and “west loop” and “east loop” highways, which would have bypassed the 21 and 30 intersection in Port Wentworth and the 21 and I-95 intersection before tying back into 21 east of I-95. Those concepts did not meet the criteria for further consideration.
Alternatives that also made the cut include connecting the central section of Highway 21, from Jimmy DeLoach Parkway to Bourne Avenue, to the “Last Mile” project and a new highway to I-16 near I-516 for the southern section, from Bourne Avenue to I-516.
Without making improvements, the CORE MPO estimated last year that rush hour travel time between downtown and Effingham will reach 80 minutes by 2035. Construction costs for all three suggested alternatives — elevated lanes, elevated lanes with a connection to the “last mile” and elevated lanes with a “last mile” connection and a new highway to I-16 from I-516 — ranges from costs of $375 million to $476 million.
Effingham County commissioners also approved buying 4.5 acres of land around the junction of McCall and Blue Jay roads in order to make improvements at that intersection. The purchase price is $3,500 per acre, with another $1,500 in survey costs.
“This piece of property presented itself in a manner in which we can acquire it without having to go through condemnation,” said Chairman Wendall Kessler.
The state Department of Transportation still has plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Blue Jay and McCall, interim county administrator Toss Allen said. Of the funding needed for that, about half could come from the DOT’s local maintenance improvement grants.
Allen added he also is exploring if safety grant money could be use to help back intersection improvements.
“Haven’t been told yes, haven’t been told no,” he said.
Kessler expressed his concerns about plans for the roundabout, specifically those that call for the railroad tracks parallel to McCall Road running through circuit.
“In my mind, the roundabout does not work at all where McCall comes out presently at Blue Jay,” he said. “How are you going to get another railroad crossing? Those things are hard to come by.”
Kessler supported the purchase of the land in order to start intersection improvements.
“The bottom line is, this is going to be safer,” he said.
Commissioners also were scheduled to get bids on ash roads repairs last week.
More than a dozen roads are scheduled to undergo remedies for problems with their ash surfaces. Commissioners will award the bid at their Aug. 20 meeting, and they could approve the contract for the work at their Sept. 3 meeting.
The roads to be repaired under the proposed contract are lower-volume roads, according to Allen. County Commissioner Steve Mason offered his reservations last month about how the ash roads will be repaired.
“We’re still kinda stabbing at what the solutions to the ash roads are,” he said. “What we’re talking about doing is experimental. When this whole ash road fiasco started, it was only going to be a couple of roads and we were going to wait to see who it works. One thing leads to another and we put it all over the county, and we got what we got.”