Former Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed spent part of three decades promoting a third interchange at Belfast Keller on I-95 for Bryan County.
Former Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler was credited with giving a late but substantial push “near the goal line” to make the project happen.
Tuesday, the interchange was officially named after Burnsed, who spent 12 years as chairman of the Bryan County Commission. The bridge spanning I-95 was named after Fowler and Burnsed.
Burnsed and his wife Becky, and Fowler and his wife Teresa, were presented road signs from state Rep. Ron Stephens, who said that wives also serve when husbands are in elected office.
In addition, Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter read proclamations honoring both men.
“To say that both men are mentors is an understatement,” said Carpenter. “Both men are Christians, and two of the finest men I have ever met.”
Burnsed said it was a great honor, “But I don’t feel I am the only one deserving of it, because there were so many people involved in it over a long period of time, and then so many people joined in at the end and helped us push it over the line, like Mayor Fowler, and others.”
He said from the outset “we knew the interchange would really make Richmond Hill grow in a different direction, and maybe take some of the traffic off of (Highway) 144, as well as being a true, true economic development tool, and that’s what it’s going to be.”
That, Carpenter said, is the best thing about the new interchange.
“It's jobs,” he said. “It’s simple, more jobs for residents who will be able to work and live in the same community. And reducing traffic on Highway 144, perhaps that’s the second best thing about it.” Fowler said having a bridge named after him was heady stuff for a country boy from west of Gainesville.
The two-term mayor spent a decade as a city councilman as well.
“It’s an honor, a real big honor. And it was a lot of hard work getting it there,” said Fowler, who is retired and now lives in Palm Coast, Fla. “But we didn’t do it alone. It took a lot of teamwork.”
Burnsed, who lives near Belfast Keller, said he’s already been on the interchange – and though he initially had misgivings about an interchange with roundabouts, he’s apparently come to love the one that has his name on it.
“It’s beautiful, and it works nicely,” he said, noting he’s already noticed Belfast Keller traffic that used to head toward 144 now heads to the Jimmy Burnsed Interchange.
Officials also say the interchange wouldn’t have happened without help from Stephens and Rayonier, and Rayonier representatives Mike Bell and Bill Cunningham were on hand at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I want to remind everyone of the decades this has been going on, trying to get something done” Stephens said, then later concluding: “Thank you for letting me be a part of this. It’s been an honor to be here.”