Let’s hope public gets behind plan for safer bridges on road to Tybee

We need safer bridges on the road to Tybee — on US 80 from the Bull River all the way to the other side of Lazaretto Creek.

The current bridges have insufficient shoulders for broken down cars, for emergency vehicle access when traffic is backed up, little room for drivers to veer out of the way if an oncoming car crosses the center line, and no safe area for cyclists. These problems rear their heads routinely in fatal crashes and massive traffic tie-ups.

The plan unveiled this week addresses those needs and the need for wider shoulders along the entire stretch of road.

Check out the chosen plan — Alternative 3 — on this page at the Metropolitan Planning Commission website.

The plan wasn’t forged in secrecy, by the way. There were public meetings in both 2010 and 2011, and local planning officials are among the most approachable public employees in the region.

The chosen plan would replace the Bull River and Lazaretto Creek bridges with new ones with 10-foot bikeable shoulders plus a 10-foot barrier-separated multi-use trail. The entire roadway would get 10-foot paved shoulders. Near Fort Pulaski, the road would be restriped for both left-hand and right-hand turn lanes. A left-hand turn lane would also be added going into an improved parking area at the McQueen’s Island Trail.

So the new plan would address our critical needs.

But an editorial today by the Savannah Morning News (where I am obviously a longtime freelance columnist) calls for rethinking the project and making the bridges four lanes. From Tybee bridges: Size matters:

AREA RESIDENTS got a chance to view the proposed plan to replace the two bridges on U.S. 80 to Tybee Island during an open house Monday night, and it was eye-opening — and not on the pleasant side.

The proposals for the new Bull River and Lazaretto Creek bridges calls for replacing the two current, two-lane bridges with two more two-lane bridges.

Why not go with four-lane bridges? That would seem more prudent. If you’re going to go to the trouble and expense of improving access to coastal Georgia’s top beach destination, wouldn’t you want to do it right and completely eliminate the existing bridge bottlenecks?

Let’s get this clear. It makes no sense to expand the bridges to four lanes without expanding the entire road to four lanes. Making the bridges into four lanes would do nothing to increase overall road capacity if the traffic has to merge back to two lanes on the other side. In fact, making the bridges four lanes would increase speeds, encourage risky passing, and make the subsequent merges dangerous.

As for making the entire road four lanes:
1) we don’t have the money — not even close,
2) the environmental permitting involved in such a massive widening would take years, and
3) Tybee Island is so small and has such limited parking that expanding road capacity would exacerbate existing problems.

On the point of money, the chosen alternative is projected to cost more than $60 million. The plan is to use federal funds, but that’s a roll of the dice. If we had passed the T-SPLOST last summer, we would have raised all the necessary money right here in the county and we’d have those bridges completed within a decade.

Of course, if we demand four-lane bridges, the cost would increase by millions and so would long-term maintenance and repairs.

As things stand now, we’re left to hope that the money will come through. That’s a huge federal expenditure to service an area that’s so small and has so few year-round residents. Give that some thought as we debate the role of the federal government and complain about “waste”.

So funding problems could push the project farther off.

A public chorus of ill-founded complaints might push it even farther off.

Here’s a detail of the selected plan for the long bridge across the Bull River:

Bull River Bridge proposal

It’s a good plan.