More houses, more people and more vehicles will need more and bigger roads over the next quarter century, according to a new transportation study.
The study, prepared by Thomas & Hutton, a Savannah-based engineering firm, is an attempt to mesh together several projects in South Bryan and predict how best local governments can manage them.
A draft of the study was discussed Wednesday afternoon by an ad hoc committee made up of elected officials and staff members from the city of Richmond Hill, Bryan County and the Development Authority of Bryan County.
“This is something we all have to address sooner rather than later,” said Chris Lovell, Richmond Hill’s city manager. “We really need to be creative rather than saying ‘this is a city project’ or ‘that is a county project’ because it impacts all of us.”
The study takes into account the planned new interchange at Belfast Keller Road and I-95 and the widening of Highway 144.
“This isn’t a specific study, it’s more of a 50,000-foot view,” said Doyle Kelly, one of the engineers who prepared it. “There are a lot of things happening that will attract more people and impact how they drive.”
For example, Highway 144 currently sees about 26,000 vehicles per day. By 2040 that number will be 51,000. U.S. 17 will jump from 24,000 to 41,000. The most startling increase, however, will be on Belfast Keller due to the new interchange, which is projected to see a jump from 5,000 to 59,000.
The study also recommends adding another road that would run northeast/southwest and connect Belfast Keller, Harris Trail and Highway 144 about halfway between Port Royal Road and Belfast River Road, possibly with roundabouts at each intersection.
“The location we’ve suggested for the new road isn’t necessarily where it will go,” Kelly said. “It’s just to show the need for it.”
Roundabouts, traffic signals or some other type of improvements are suggested for the following intersections:
*Port Royal Road at Highway 144
*Port Royal Road at Harris Trail
*Highway 144 at Spur 144
*Harris Trail at Belfast River Road
*Highway 144 at Oak Level Road
While current plans call for widening Highway 144 to four lanes from Harris Trail to Belfast River Road, engineers say it will also need to be widened to Oak Level Road in years to come. They also recommend widening Belfast Keller Road from U.S. 17 all the way to Highway 144 where it intersects with Oak Level Road.
“U.S. 17 will also need to be widened, but GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) has plans at some point to expand that from four lanes to six,” Kelly said.
City Councilman Russ Carpenter said the long-range planning is necessary, but the city and county also need to start looking at what is needed in the immediate future — five to seven years — and start to think about the planning, designing and funding for those projects.
The county is already taking a step in that direction. Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor recently announced the county will receive $110,000 from GDOT to add about three feet to each side of Harris Trail along a two-mile stretch starting at Sterling Creek.
The study is predicated on the assumption of 350 new homes being built per year for the next several decades.
Bryan County was the 27th fastest growing county in the nation over the past five years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The county grew 16 percent from 2010 to 2015, adding nearly 5,000 residents, with a 3.6 percent growth in 2015. And 2016 appears to be on track to top that.
Taylor said there were 101 single-family home permits issued through the first four months of this year, a 44 percent increase over the same time period a year ago. Taylor noted that those permits take into account only the unincorporated portion of the county, not the city of Richmond Hill.
In 2015, there were 252 single-family home permits issued by the county, and another 127 in Richmond Hill. Through the first four months of this year, the city was 33 percent ahead of last year for permits issued.