With the Georgia Department of Transportation going through well-publicized shortages in funding, some folks wonder whether the Hwy. 144 widening will truly take place as planned.
Senator President Pro-tem Eric Johnson said he’s been doing his best to "rattle their cage" about staying on top of the project.
"The DOT affects everyone locally," he said. "Hwy. 144 is in the middle of that, as well as the Interchange at I-95 and Hwy. 17, as well as Abercorn/Hwy. 204 – which also affects a lot of you folks."
County Administrator Phil Jones said the Hwy. 144 project was first picked up by the DOT back in 2000.
"I started working for the county again in 2003 and at that time, we had a meeting with the DOT commissioner and he moved the Hwy. 144 project to 2009 which meant it would have started this year. Then it slipped to 2011, meaning it should start in 2010," he said.
County Planning and Zoning Director Dale Dudley said in two year’s time, he wouldn’t even be surprised if the starting date changed again.
"They are in the process of the right-of-way acquisition phase from property owners and that’s looking pretty good right now. Hopefully there won’t be much hold up on that," Dudley said.
Brenda Howard of the District 5 regional DOT office in Jesup said they are currently working on a preliminary design.
"Our goal is to have plans ready for right-of-way funding by the end of this year. We will also hold a public hearing open house as soon as our draft environmental document is ready," she said. "Then we can have a more accurate construction start date."
Dudley said the environmental document is a study that looks at the amount of wetlands in the area and the impact of the highway widening on the environment and possible runoff effects.
Johnson said the new DOT Director Gena Abrahm was hired, in part, because she has no ties to the transportation industry.
"Every time she turns over a rock, we’re finding more problems," Johnson said. "Two months ago, she asked how many projects there were and it took them two weeks for her to find out there are thousands – but they only do a couple hundred each year."
Johnson said too many projects have been promised, with little hope they’ll be addressed any time soon.
Ericka Davis, GADOT director of communications, said they currently have 9,000 projects on the books and did approximately 270 last year. The DOT is currently in the process of going through all the state aid projects to reevaluate and re-prioritize them.