Despite assurances from the Georgia Department of Transportation that the widening of Highway 144 would begin next spring, the project now appears in doubt.
A draft copy of GDOT’s 2018-2021 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program document contains no mention of the project. GDOT had earlier said bids would be sought on the widening in March 2018 and construction would begin 60 days later. The document can be found at http://www.dot.ga.gov/IS/STIP.
County Commissioners Chairman Carter Infinger attended a GDOT meeting Tuesday evening in Statesboro to find out more about why the project was left off the list. Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler had also said he would attend.
“We’re going to find out what happened because just last month we were on the list,” Infinger said. “It’s a fluid list, with projects being added and taken off all the time depending on what stage they are in, but we need to make sure we get back on the list.”
The problem appears to hinge on environmental studies that expired as the project has been delayed numerous times. City and county officials were under the impression that GDOT was redoing the environmental study and would have it completed in time.
“We’re proceeding as if it will be on the list,” Infinger added. “GDOT basically said they have a place holder for it and when the environmental studies are done then it becomes ‘shovel ready’ and can move back on the list.”
The project will cost about $26 million, 80 percent of which will be federal dollars.
“Will it happen next year? We don’t know,” Infinger said.
Infinger indicated in an April column for the Bryan County News that GDOT had told the county the studies would be complete in time and that funding was available to begin the widening project in spring 2018. You can read that here: http://www.bryancountynews.com/archives/48820/.
“That’s right,” Infinger said when asked if ultimately GDOT may have caused the project to drop off the list because the state had not finished its environmental study. “They told us that by the time they were ready to let the bids next spring that everything would be in place.”
The project includes about two miles within the city of Richmond Hill from Timber Trail to Port Royal Road, and another three miles in the county from Port Royal Road to Belfast River Road.
The Richmond Hill City Council recently voted to spend $420,000 toward the cost of Coastal Electric burying overhead power lines along Highway 144. County commissioners are expected to reconsider a similar proposal at their September meeting after rejecting it earlier this month regarding power lines along the state route in the county.
The STIP draft does, however, include the long-anticipated construction of a new interchange on I-95 at Belfast Keller Road.