T-SPLOST may be dead and buried by voters in our region, but that doesn’t mean the problems that prompted its appearance on the ballot last year have gone away.
If anything, they’re not only still out there, they are only going to get worse, especially if growth returns to the Coastal Empire at anything like its former rate. That means increasingly snarled traffic, commutes that keep getting longer and more dangerous and the resulting cost in time, fortune and, unfortunately, lives.
Motorists who tried to drive north on Interstate 95 on Friday afternoon got the latest reminder there are on awful lot of cars and trucks out there. Traffic was backed up from the South Carolina line all the way south to Highway 204 for several hours, just one week after a fatal wreck stopped traffic on the same stretch of road.
The result sent hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of drivers looking for alternate routes and added to the rush hour headaches of local commuters. Headaches, by the way, that in some instances are beginning to rival those in metro Atlanta.
Thanks to geography and more than a decade of fast population growth, we also are one hurricane away from an evacuation scenario that could make the mess from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 look like a walk in the park.
So how do we fix it?
The problem, in a nutshell, is a lack of adequate infrastructure. Our roads, most of which were built when there were far fewer people here, are simply not designed to handle the amount of traffic we have now, let alone what we’ll have within two decades, if U.S. Census projections of a million or more residents in the Coastal Empire by 2030 come true.
So far, the solution seems to be limited to adding more pavement and more traffic lights. Unfortunately, it can take years to get a project from the drawing board to reality, meaning by the time one is completed it may already be overwhelmed.
For example, at Highway 30 and Highway 21 in neighboring Chatham County, Savannah-bound traffic from surrounding counties is so heavy at the Interstate 95 interchange in Port Wentworth that a turn lane stretching nearly half a mile from 30 to the southbound entrance ramp was installed in an attempt to keep traffic moving. It isn’t the best solution, but it was better than what existed before — namely, chaos. Yet the turn lane now also provides entrances to a gas station and two new fast-food restaurants, which seemed to defeat the purpose of the turn lane and can make for some interesting driving during morning rush hour.
What seems to be lost in the process is that at some point we’re going to run out of room, or perhaps the desire to live in a world in which every corner is tied to asphalt — but hopefully not before alternatives to pavement are found.
Commuter rail, greenways with bike paths linking communities from Rincon and Pembroke to Richmond Hill to Savannah, and incentives to commuters to find alternatives to drivings need to be seriously considered.
And it needs to happen now, while we have time to think about it.