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Jeff Whitten: A short shelf life
editor's notes

I’ve heard it said by some elected officials that new roads don’t solve traffic problems, they just create more traffic.

And yet, well, hope springs eternal. Case in point, the Great Ogeechee Parkway, which officially opened to traffic on Monday.

Perhaps it’s worth celebrating in the short term, because it’ll make some folks commute easier for a while. It could also save lives, given the time it can take first responders to get people to a hospital.

Anything to shave a minute or two off that trip is a good thing, especially if you’re the one in need of having that minute shaved off. Likewise, there’ll be those who’ll see that saletax- funded investment in infrastructure as a way to make even more money, and you can’t blame ‘em for that.

But what will happen over time? That’ll be the test of whether this particular transportation project helped South Bryan residents, or if in 5 years or so drivers on the Great Ogeechee Parkway will be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and cussing GDOT.

Lest you doubt, check out the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway in Pooler. Not all that long ago you could ride the rush hour from 95 nearly to Highway 17 without seeing much traffic. Nowadays it’s so backed up with semis and transplants there are days you might as well take the long way and go up to Statesboro to get back over to Savannah.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of more roads because of the old adage every solution has a problem. I come by it naturally, because a good chunk of the road building I’ve been around appears to my jaundiced eye targeted as much toward opening fresh areas for development as it might be aimed at making driving safer and less stressful for folks already here, even if that’s a short-term result.

In fact, I’m of the opinion quality of life for current residents is usually secondary to economic development in whatever metrics get used to decide what goes where when. That’s not to say the people who make those decisions are bad people. They’re doing what they think best.

But it seems to me so long as officials can point to gaudy numbers showing this is the No. 1 state for business and developers and companies who come here to do business have a healthy bottom line, then us regular people can either get on board the growth train, run for office ourselves, or go smoke rope somewhere else.

I tend to use Highway 21 in Effingham County as an example, again and again. It was four-laned from Port Wentworth into Rincon more than 20 years ago and for a while was a nice drive. But it opened up a strip of West Chatham – and that stretch of South Effingham – to the ever-ready builders, and within a decade (say by 2007 or so) massive housing developments began cropping on both sides of 21. At the same time, years of booming residential growth in Effingham County meant morning commutes into Savannah were taking longer and longer – that five miles from Goshen Road to the I-95 interchange could take half an hour or more at times, just because of the volume of traffic.

Along the way, a school and a shopping center opened nearby, about halfway from Effingham County to the interstate, and before you knew it there had to be a traffic light at that intersection to keep people from killing one another. What’s more, another median cut maybe 150 yards or so away muddied the waters. When traffic is moving, drivers heading north or south on 21 have to hold their breath and hope those folks trying to exit a certain giant housing development (which has since been expanded to include an apartment complex and commercial stuff) and tired of waiting 10 minutes to get onto 21 don’t finally just close their eyes and hope people’s brakes are working.

Once, in the middle of that area near the median cut, I saw a pickup on its side in the fast lane. All by itself. No signs of a wreck, just the requisite emergency vehicles and that big old pickup, laying on its side like an abandoned toy. That was after it took me and a whole lot of other folks nearly an hour to get about 3 miles from the I-95 interchange up 21 to that particular spot. Traffic was, to put it mildly, all jacked up. Again.

Sure, seeing one of those giant pickup sitting on its side all by itself was something I’ve only seen once. Traffic snarling wrecks aren’t. They’re a dime a dozen anymore, except they’re not for those hurt or killed in them.

In the meantime, it’s somehow considered progress to keep on adding more traffic, then more roads, then more traffic.

That means if the recent past is any indication, anything resembling an open road hereabouts will continue to have a short shelf life.

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