ATLANTA – A long-delayed highway designed to boost economic development is among the state’s priorities, Effingham County officials and business leaders learned Monday, along with improvements at Interstate interchanges normally clogged with commuters.
The Effingham Parkway will get $44 million and the state’s commitment to complete it, Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, told the crowd of local dignitaries moments after they posed for a photo with Gov. Nathan Deal. They cheered when Burns announced the news.
And the state will also widen and reconfigure the interchange of Interstate 95 and Ga. 21 as well as upgrading the I-96 and I-16 interchange.
The projects are all being accelerated with money from a transportation-funding bill passed last year that raised the gasoline tax and imposed fees on electric cars and hotel stays.
Burns, the House majority leader, said the Department of Transportation recognized the importance of the parkway.
“This is a project of significance, not just to Effingham County, but to the state as a whole,” he said.
It will help smooth the flow of freight to and from the Port of Savannah and neighboring distribution centers as well as the workers supporting them.
Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, credited local efforts.
“One of the things that makes this project so doable is the work the county has already done,” said Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Planning the right of way for this project has really made this project move along.”
County Commission Chairman Wendell Kessler noted that the parkway had been on the drawing board for a dozen years. It had bogged down due to its total cost and because a portion of it is in Chatham County. Chatham commissioners didn’t see it as a priority, leaving a gap that held up the entire project.
“The state told us two years ago, ‘If you can do this, this and this, we will help you bridge that gap.’ And they have done much more than that,” he said. “This becoming a state project will move things a lot quicker.”
The Effingham commission also shortened the route to save money from its original destination in Guyton.
The Interstate interchange improvements are another big prize for the county.
“It’s the No. 1 complaint I get from all my constituents everywhere,” said Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon.
The diverging-diamond project has already been bid on at Ga. 21 and I-95, and the Transportation Department is moving up the completion date to the fall of 2017, according to Hitchens, who became a member of the House Transportation Committee last week.
Also, the I-91 interchange with I-16 is a major part of the department’s 10-year plan announced last week with a $244 million construction estimate.
Hearing good news about local roads wasn’t all the crew from Effingham was up to during Effingham Day. They also were recognized in the House and Senate, they distributed homemade raisin bread to legislators’ offices, and they hosted state officials in a reception decorated with local products.
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