We have obviously had a few days of flooding issues on 80 that have led to access issues for Tybee. Most critically, the flooding of 80 leads to problems with emergency transportation. There has been some progress made on long-awaited safety improvements on Highway 80 and I wanted to share this information with everyone.
First, the Georgia Department of Transportation had originally planned to repave the Highway 80 causeway between the Bull and Lazaretto Creek bridges in the fall of 2018. This project is still moving forward but has been delayed to the spring of 2019 due to some problems that the contractor experienced completing another project. This project will raise the road up to 8 inches in certain areas to keep it from flooding on exceptionally high tides. GDOT agreed to do this to prevent issues like we experienced this past weekend. By adding more asphalt to low-lying portions of the causeway, it should prevent road closures due to high tides (except for hurricane-associated flooding). The 80 project will, I have been assured by GDOT, take place overnight so as not to impact daytime traffic.
Second, as I am sure almost everyone has seen by now, large message boards have been placed at Bryan Woods and the foot of the Lazaretto Creek bridge. The message boards were placed at these locations by GDOT to notify drivers about traffic conditions on Highway 80. As we all know, traffic back-ups occur with regularity on 80 especially on spring and summer weekends. After a conference call this past week with GDOT, we obtained some additional information about how they will function. GDOT has a traffic management center in the Atlanta area that manages message boards all over the State. Most of these are on interstates in the Atlanta area. Traffic conditions are communicated to the operations center via traffic sensors and other technology as well as through phone calls made to Georgia 511 from local law enforcement agencies and the public. When there are no problematic traffic conditions to report, the message boards will contain standard public service announcements (i.e. ‘Georgia is a hands-free state’, ‘no texting and driving’, etc.). GDOT is also crafting some messages that are specific to this stretch of road to warn drivers about high water or raising awareness of potential turtle crossings and things of that nature. The smaller message board at Bryan Woods (the one that has always said ‘Drive Safely’ regardless of traffic conditions) will be removed. That sign has, in my opinion, been completely useless anyways.
Third, the project to replace the Bull and Lazaretto Creek bridges and make safety improvements to the causeway is still moving forward. GDOT has advised us that a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’ (FONSI) will be issued by the Federal agencies that must permit the project by the spring of 2019. This FONSI is a critical step in moving this project to the next step and is the last permitting obstacle for the project. It essentially clears the way for funding to be provided. The total project cost is expected to be $112 million. Myself and others lobbied hard to make this a 4 lane solution. When I most recently discussed this with the GDOT Commissioner, he advised that due to federal permitting requirements and laws put in place protecting marshland, etc., a 4 lane option simply would not be issued a permit. The plan that GDOT is moving forward with is to build two new bridges, each with emergency lanes so as to allow for additional lanes in an emergency. The plan also calls for emergency lanes all along the causeway. While it is not what myself and many others wanted, it is a massive improvement over what we have now as it will allow for emergency vehicles to get through during heavy traffic or when there is wreck that stops traffic. It will allow for traffic to flow around accidents instead of completely stopping the flow of traffic. It will be built in such a way that flooding does not happen except in extreme circumstances (a storm surge from a hurricane). It also will have a segregated bike/walking lane on both bridges.
We will work to keep everyone apprised of developments with this important project.