Bryan County Commissioners Chairman Jimmy Burnsed made sure to attend a Georgia Department of Transportation open house Tuesday at the John W. Stevens Wetlands Education Center.
Burnsed, also chairman of the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, wanted to see for himself the proposal to construct a double roundabout at the Highway 144 and Interstate 95 interchange.
“The roundabout is the wave of the future for all of us, I guess, and it just looks like to me they’re trying to make Bryan County and Richmond Hill the roundabout capital of Georgia,” Burnsed quipped.
Burnsed’s reference — to the proposed 144/95 roundabouts and the traffic circle built this summer at Highway 144 and Belfast River Road — was tongue-in-cheek. He actually considers the roundabout an effective design to keep traffic moving.
“A traffic light backs up traffic. A roundabout keeps it flowing,” Burnsed said. “Not everybody agrees, but I think it’s a good idea.”
Under the GDOT’s proposal, roundabouts would be built on Highway 144 at the I-95 ramps, adding a right-turn bypass lane from 144 to the I-95 northbound and southbound entrance ramps.
The idea for the double roundabout evolved from discussions about how to ease traffic congestion at Highway 144 and I-95 and make the interchange safer to navigate, according to GDOT District Communications Officer Jill Nagel.
“We think this is the best, safest improvement we can do at this interchange,” Nagel said. “We need to relieve some congestion, especially traffic coming into and out of Fort Stewart. Anytime you look at congestion possibly backing up on I-95, that is a hazard.”
The 144/I-95 restructuring is in the “concept phase,” Nagel said, meaning the project’s design has not been formally approved. Public comment is being taken through Oct. 8.
Nagel estimated the construction would cost around $2.5 million, though the price tag can’t be finalized until the design is. The project would be federally funded, she said.
A consulting firm is developing the design, Nagel said, and a team of GDOT engineers will “look at it under a microscope” to make sure it follows all federal guidelines. The design then will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.
If it’s approved, the GDOT could put the project out for bid “toward the end of 2016,” Nagel said. Finalizing the contract with the chosen bidder would take 30-60 days, she said, likely extending the start of construction into 2017.
“What we’re estimating is 18 months for construction,” Nagel said.
Anyone who missed the open house can mail comments to: Hiral Patel, State Environmental Administrator; Georgia Department of Transportation; 600 W. Peachtree St. NW, 16th Floor; Atlanta, GA 30308.
Comments also can be submitted online to www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach. From the menu, select “Bryan” and then “SR 144 at I-95 off ramps.” Click “Go,” then click “Comment” and follow the instructions.
The project displays and plans will be posted on www.dot.ga.gov for 10 days following the open house. Hard copies also will be available at the Georgia DOT’s Savannah Area Office at 630 W. Boundary St. in Savannah.
Burnsed left the open house cautiously optimistic that the double roundabout could improve the traffic flow at Highway 144 and Interstate 95 — albeit about four years from now.
“It looks to me like it should work and it should alleviate that traffic coming out of Fort Stewart every afternoon, to some degree,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see.”