It’s a good time to think about how we get from point A to point B in the wake of last week’s public hearing on the proposed $18 million widening of Highway 144, which one state Department of Transportation engineer said is now closer to happening than ever. It’s obvious the widening of 144 from two to four lanes, along with a soon-to-be installed light where the highway meets Timber Trail and the dedicated right turn lane at 144 and 17, should help make rush-hour commutes safer and less time-consuming for tens of thousands of South Bryan residents.
Even better, the DOT says the widening is designed so it will meet the needs of the county in 2035 — meaning an anticipated daily traffic in excess of 30,000 cars a day. By contrast, more than 11,000 cars go up and down the road on a daily basis now, according to the DOT count. That number is expected to climb to more than 21,000 per day within the next decade.
Some folks don’t like the plan, for reasons that include the impact it will have on their property — after all, it’s bad enough living on a heavily traveled two-lane road, let alone one that will soon be big enough to accommodate three times the traffic. Some also object on the notion that this will simply open up more property for development, leading to more traffic.
That objection is also understandable. One official recently said as an aside that the road paving is necessary, but he also added the truth of the matter is widening roads doesn’t relieve congestion, it just creates more traffic. One trip up Highway 21 in Effingham County during rush hour shows just how accurate that statement is. Four-laned in the '90s, Highway 21 makes 144 look tame in the same way roads in Atlanta tend to make roads in the Coastal Empire seem less congested.
What's more, the outlook for South Bryan is more traffic regardless of whether 144 is widened or not. With the real estate market improving, there’s every indication former plans to build thousands of homes in the area served by 144 will go forward. That alone is a good reason to widen 144.
At the same time, at some point we as a society need to look for alternatives to widening roads. This project is said to include bike lanes on each shoulder, which is good news for South Bryan’s many cyclists. But why not use resources to build greenways so those who might want to bike to work and back can get there without worrying about being struck by a vehicle? That might help take thousands of vehicles off our roads at any given time, which would ease congestion, lessen air pollution and contribute to a healthier society.
A Savannah Beltline, similar to what Atlanta is doing by converting no-longer used railway lines into walking and biking trails while maintaining some rail connection for mass transit, could connect Richmond Hill and South Bryan to Savannah and other communities along the Georgia coast. Of course funding is key.
Similarly, leaders should begin to work on finding a way to go forward with a workable mass transit system that is both affordable and environmentally sound. When we spend millions on asphalt to accommodate an ever-increasing amount of traffic on our roads, we should also look for alternatives that will help us get to work in a safe, inexpensive and timely manner.