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Belfast Siding interchange discussed
Belfast Interchange

Officials from every governmental agency in the county, along with representatives from multiple state and federal agencies, filled up the conference room inside the Richmond Hill Holiday Inn on Sept. 22 for a county presentation endorsing the proposed I-95 interchange at Belfast Siding Road and I-95.

Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed hosted the event. He laid out many of the reasons he believes the interchange is important to the community.

Burnsed, along with other county reps, said the massive amount of growth projected for the area mandates the interchange be built.

"This meeting is all about planning," Burnsed said. "It’s all about the future of Bryan County, and we are at a very critical stage. The growth is coming and we have to act now to have the infrastructure in place for it."

Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis spoke of a 2006 Georgia Tech study that projects the Bryan County population to double by 2030 to 46,000 residents.

"If you think about all these people and all this growth, you have to plan for it," Davis said "A new interchange at Belfast Siding Road is right in the middle of those plans."

Burnsed listed three development projects in the immediate vicinity and said the existence of the Belfast interchange is very important in accommodating the growth each suggests.

Those projects are: Terra Pointe's Belfast Siding project at 3,300 acres with 10,000 residential units, Genesis Point/Waterways Township at 2,200 acres with 2,946 residential units and Terra Pointe's Kilkenny project at 3,500 acres with 4,754 residential units. Unit numbers are based on a 25-year build out.

Congressman Jack Kingston said getting the interchange project in motion will not be easy, due in part to a current governmental funding shortfall. He said, for example, the DOT has a half billion dollar shortfall in the state.

"I’m not saying this isn’t going to happen, I’m just saying what we’re up against," Kingston said. "Dwight Eisenhower said that once the American people have made their mind up about something, there’s nothing that can be done to stop it from happening. I would say the same sort of resolve would make this project a reality … you can get this, but it’s going to take a lot of works."

Kingston added that he, Senator Saxby Chambliss, and Senator Johnny Isakson are all behind the project and will work with the county to help make it a reality.

"I look forward to working with Bryan County on any improvement that we could do to help the prosperity of that great community," Isakson said via speaker phone from D.C.

Michael Quiello, with Isakson’s office, said Kingston was correct in identifying the funding obstacles, but community support is the kind of thing that could put this project "light years ahead of other projects around the country that are competing for those same federal dollars. So events like this are critical to a project such as this … We’ll do everything we can to try to secure funding for this project …You all are doing the right thing, but this is the first step in a long process. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep that in mind as you move forward."

In addition to all the new residential projects, plans for a Richmond Hill industrial park are on the table. Burnsed said 1,100 acres near the interchange site have been set aside for an industrial tract. He also noted how well the one on the north end is doing and that it should be completely full within the next five years.

A school is also going to be built in the area of the interchange. School Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer said the new middle school, to be located on Belfast-Keller Road, will accommodate 1,500 students. She also said site preparations will begin next month.

Other factors discussed included the need for another evacuation route and the fact the Hwy. 144 is home to one of the busiest railroad crossings in the country, which "has the tendency to back up traffic," Mayor Davis said. Bryan officials said the interchange would alleviate congestion off Hwy. 144, Hwy. 17 and many other local roadways.

Burnsed said the county has turned in all its figures, and the fate of the interchange now lies in the hands of agencies that are responsible for approving such projects, such as the DOT, Federal Highway Administration, and Congress. The county recently sent an Interstate Justification Report to DOT and is awaiting a response.

"We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but I think with the kind of players we’ve got on this team, we are ahead of the curve on this juncture," Burnsed said, in reference to the agencies represented at the meeting.

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