As anyone who gets behind the wheel knows, driving around the Coastal Empire can be an exercise in frustration, but there’s always a bright side. In our case, it’s this: Traffic here is still a cakewalk compared to what our fellow motorists in Atlanta have to deal with on a daily basis.
That is probably small consolation for people whose weekday routine includes having to leave home earlier and earlier to make up for time lost in traffic jams caused by an infrastructure that simply has not kept pace with the area’s population growth.
For example: On a recent morning in Richmond Hill, traffic on Highway 144 east of 17 was backed up past City Hall, a distance of more than a mile. There was a time not very long ago when one could get from one part of Richmond Hill to another within a few minutes. Now, depending on the time of day, it can take 10-15 minutes to go from, say Cedar Street at J.F. Gregory Park to Richmond Hill High School.
Had the city a system of sidewalks, one could probably jog from one spot to the other faster than one could drive. In fairness, sidewalk systems are often discussed, but it takes tax dollars and officials are understandably loath to propose increases in property taxes.
There are some short-term fixes in the works, however, and these are worth applauding. A long-anticipated traffic signal at Timber Trail and Highway 144 in Richmond Hill could be up and running by June. That’s about a month later than planned, but it’s still much closer than ever before and it should make that intersection far less dangerous than it currently is.
What’s more, the equally anticipated beginning of work on a “dedicated” right turn lane at 144 and Highway 17 could begin sometime next month, city business leaders learned at Monday’s business breakfast at the Richmond Hill City Center to kick off Georgia Cities Week. That simple fix might help alleviate some of those mile-long lines of traffic one sees on 144 at times.
Local leaders deserve credit for these improvements, because without their efforts to make them happen they wouldn’t. The real problem however is the way we address transportation in this state, which is kind of like shutting the barn door after the horse has not only left the building, but already gotten all the way up I-95 to Washington, D.C.
Too often, infrastructure goes in after it’s needed, not before, and then by the time the fix is made it’s both painful — if you think 144 is bad now, just think what it’s going to be like when work on the widening begins — and often inadequate.
But matching infrastructure with growth isn’t easy, because traffic will increase as long as our community continues to grow. New homes are on the books and are being built now is South Bryan, and as more jobs come to the industrial park in Black Creek there will be more homes built in North Bryan, creating more traffic.
None of which is a reason not to make what temporary fixes are needed now. When you’ve got a problem, a band aid is better than no attention at all.
Still, we — and that means all of us — need to start thinking ahead when it comes to infrastructure. Linking area communities with bike and walking trails and possibly even mass transit are ideas that should be considered.
Funding has been and will continue to be a problem. Georgia is far behind the curve when it comes to road improvements in large part because, understandably, no one wants to raise taxes. Yet ask anyone why something hasn’t been done and they’ll generally come back with — “the money isn’t there.”
If the recent regional TSPLOST had passed — and pass it did in Bryan County — then local communities would be in a much better position to complete projects on the wish list.
The TSPLOST proposal will be back and may have a better chance of passage in southeast Georgia. Whatever the source of funding, we will need to build and plan for the future wisely.
Otherwise, more gridlock awaits. And with it frustration, wasted time and lost resources.