JASPER COUNTY, Sc. (WSAV) – The South Carolina Department of Transportation held a public meeting Thursday to hear from residents on both sides of the Talmadge Bridge who drive Highway 17 regularly, before starting construction on their proposed project to widen Highway 17.
“When crash rates start getting higher, we’re really looking at what safety improvements can we do to the corridor to improve it and to provide safe travel for the public,” said the project manager, Craig Winn.
One of the residents attending the meeting was there fro that very reason.
“My brother died on March the 13th on the highway right before Hardeeville state line in Savannah and they did not find his body for another day,” said Lisa Boatright Davis.
Many driving the highway, either to Savannah from the Lowcountry or the other way around, know that it’s a dangerous drive.
“In Savannah alone, I know 6 people that have got hit,” said Boatright Davis, “And I don’t want anybody else to die on that highway like my brother did that night.”
Others in attendance Thursday evening wanted to stress how long the route takes with traffic for people driving to and from work.
“On the 17, it’s 17,700 automobiles a day,” said Stan Lancaster, a Jasper County resident. In August, he started a petition to get something done about the dangerous roads. He’s also been counting, finding a varying number from 60 to 80 cars lined up trying to get from the 315 to the 17 during the afternoon.
Another resident mentioned her concern of there being an emergency for anyone sitting in the miles of cars backed up, saying “there’s no way you can get around it.”
The DOT’s project proposal is a two phase plane. First, widening the highway from the Talmadge Bridge to Interstate 315. That includes adding an additional lane to each side with a grass median, as well as a traffic light at the 17 and 315 intersection
This phase also includes a bike lane, which Thursday, prompted residents to speak up about the dangers of bikes on that road, many asking for the DOT to take second look at their plan and make the bike lane bigger.
The second phase would include building a twin bridge over the Back River.
With the number of fatal collisions on the highway increasing over the years, Winn says they’re able to move forward now with phase one fully funded.
“It’s been in the process for approximately 10 years, and it started ya know lack of funding and the Lowcountry Council of Governments and the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study have both funded the project.”
Both receive federal funding. Phase one’s price tag: 54 million.
They expect to start construction of phase one in fall 2018, estimating it to last through 2021 and reassure the public that the existing lanes will remain open during that time.