Early on during Tuesday night’s Richmond Hill city council meeting, Mayor Russ Carpenter said it might be a long night.
It got longer when Phil Richardson stood up as the meeting wound down.
Richardson, who wasn’t on the agenda and hadn’t signed up to speak, pleaded with city officials to do something about the intersection at Highway 17 and Ponderosa Road, less than a mile from the I-95 exit.
Richardson lives in Wiley Woods, a subdivision accessed by Ponderosa Road.
He said the intersection is already dangerous and will only get worse with two new motels under construction near the road, a third in the planning stages and other motels, and several fast food restaurants, a new Dollar General, a campground and a number of convenience stores nearby.
Adding to the mix: Ponderosa Road cuts through the median dividing Highway 17’s southbound and northbound lanes, and is often used by southbound 17 drivers to make a U-turn. They, in turn, are often are met in the cut by drivers trying to take a left onto Highway 17 north from Ponderosa, despite the absence of a traffic signal. In addition, school buses drop students off at the road where it meets 17, according to city officials.
Richardson said he’s concerned the added traffic from the motel is going to make the situation worse.
“I ask you to think back to when (the intersection where Travel America and a McDonald’s sit on opposite sides of Highway 17) didn’t have a traffic light, what kind of problems you had there with vehicles and pedestrians,” said Richardson, an Air Force veteran retired from Gulfstream and an Air Force veteran who has lived in Wiley Woods since 2000.
Richardson’s plea seemed to find sympathetic ears Tuesday. He afterward said the response from city officials such as Scott Allison, the assistant city manager and head of planning and zoning, has been “great.”
During the meeting, Carpenter told Richardson the city’s mantra is now “infrastructure over development."
“I know a lot of people say ‘you’re a little bit late with that,’” Carpenter said, “And you’re right, but we’re trying to catch up.” Councilman John Fesperman agreed with Richardson.
“I drive in that area every day,” he said. “It’s bad, especially with people try ing to cross that highway. People are going to get killed there if something isn’t done.”
Fesperman said he wants the city to be proactive and “do our due diligence,” but because 17 is a state highway, and because Bryan County draws a share of the sales tax revenue from the motels, Richmond Hill council member Johnny Murphy suggested that Richardson also speak to county commissioners, noting tax revenue from the motels at the intersection should be enough to help fund improvements.
“With the amount of revenue that comes into this county off those hotels and off those property taxes where you are living, you would think we would have access to the money (to provide a solution),” Murphy said.
Fesperman said the city still needs to do “its due diligence and do our part.”
“It seems like we could come up with something int hat area down there, regardless of what the county does,” he said.
Allison, who said he’s met with Richardson on a number of occasions, told council members the opening of Dollar General across 17 from the entrance to the KOA could present the opportunity to extend Wiley Street from the subdivision behind the store all the way to 17 and put a light at that intersection.
“We’re trying to get it on the right people’s radar screen,” Allison said. “As you know a lot of it is out of our control but we can be diligent on our part.”