After several years in the making, the Last Mile should help clear the road for Effingham County drivers.
Each day, thousands of drivers from our community take to Highways 21 and 80, bound for either business or pleasure in Savannah — though traffic on either road is usually never the latter of those two — and there are thousands of big rigs also on those roads, especially 21, headed in and out of the port of Savannah.
But the Last Mile project, a 3.1-mile-long connector, is expected to take the bulk of those semis off those roads and give them a direct path from Interstate 95 into the port. For now, those estimates are 8,000-10,000 trucks a day sharing the roads with commuters, travelers and other motorists.
Providing the trucks a dedicated, direct access to the port, which remains one of the nation’s busiest, means safer roads for Effingham drivers who work in Savannah or head into the Hostess City of the South to take advantage of its restaurants and entertainment. And the traffic in and out of the port may be increasing geometrically in the years to come.
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, and it includes the funding needed to complete the deepening of the Savannah harbor. The $652 million project — of which the state is kicking in more than $230 million — means the harbor will be deepened from 42 feet to 47 feet.
A deeper harbor means the port can handle the bigger ships expected to transit the enlarged Panama Canal, once that project is finished. Bigger ships mean even more containers per vessel, and more containers will be outbound and inbound on more and more trucks on the roads. The Panama Canal project could be finished in a year and a half, though work there is behind schedule, Gov. Nathan Deal said.
Not that Deal was complaining about that — with actual work of deepening the harbor not under way, it will be some time before the Savannah port can accommodate larger vessels.
Without a connector from Jimmy DeLoach Parkway to the port, that would put even more trucks, well in excess of the several thousand a day already driving on 21 and other routes, on the roads. With work now starting on the Last Mile, which is expected to be finished in May 2016, it may be just in time.
For Effingham drivers, many of whom depend on Highway 21 to get to and from work, it’s a relief in the works and none too soon.