Projected growth and increased use has many residents concerned about the safety of Belfast River Road, particularly at the Harris Trail intersection.
Several residents of the Dunham Marsh subdivision addressed the issue at a recent Bryan County Board of Commissioners meeting.
One likened trying to cross Belfast River to “playing chicken,” while others noted that traffic on the road often exceeds the posted speed limit of 55 mph.
Several factors in both the short- and long-term guarantee that traffic on the road will increase.
The construction of a new interchange on I-95 at Belfast Keller Road will require the current overpass to close, meaning traffic that normally uses that route to get to U.S. 17 will be rerouted to Belfast River Road. That will be alleviated somewhat as the first steps in the project — slated to begin next year — call for the northbound on ramp and southbound off ramp to be constructed first before the overpass is rebuilt.
Bryan County Schools also has plans to build a new high school and a new elementary school in the vicinity of Richmond Hill Middle School, and the city of Richmond Hill is in the process of annexing some 5,000 acres in that area that will see about 9,600 new homes built over the next several decades.
City officials say internal roads on the annexed Rayonier property that will be built along old logging paths, including one planned to connect Harris Trail and Belfast Keller, should help alleviate traffic on Belfast River.
County Administrator Ben Taylor said the intersection of Harris Trail and Belfast River is among the top three that the county thinks must be upgraded, most likely with a roundabout. That is based on a 2015 traffic engineering study the county and city jointly commissioned based on future growth in South Bryan.
Many of the intersection upgrades, which includes Port Royal Road at Highway 144 and Belfast River at Belfast Keller, depend on whether or not the T-SPLOST measure passes. The transportation-specific Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is slated to be on the ballot next May.
“We can’t advocate voting for T-SPLOST, but we do need people to come out and make their voices heard,” said Commissioner Noah Covington.
A 0.75 T-SPLOST levy would raise about $20 million over five years for the county and the cities of Richmond Hill and Pembroke to use on roads.
In the meantime, Commissioners Chairman Carter Infinger said the county would look into alternatives to increase safety at the Belfast River-Harris Trail intersection.
Those measures include lowering the speed limit on Belfast River on either side of the intersection, asking Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith to add additional patrols to the area — especially before and after school — and adding flashing yellow lights to the roadside to warn motorists of the intersection.
Taylor also said the county could begin engineering studies for a roundabout at the intersection since one will eventually be needed regardless of the T-SPLOST outcome. Such a project would cost about $1.1 million.
As is the case with the SPLOST levy, commissioners noted that the vast majority of a T-SPLOST would be paid by non-residents at the two current I-95 interchanges.