Tybee officials say action needed after another weekend of Hwy 80 issues

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Tybee Island officials say action is needed after a Saturday wreck blocked ambulance access to the island. A woman had to be airlifted to the hospital from the beach.

The mayor of Tybee Island said the collision on the Bull River Bridge is the latest example of safety issues that have been a concern for decades.

The crash made it impossible for an ambulance to get onto the island, so a LifeStar helicopter had to land on the beach and fly a woman with a seizure condition to the hospital. LifeStar says flights to and from Tybee are frequent, happening two to three times a year, but they are much more expensive than a typical ambulance trip. A flight nurse says a drive to the hospital costs between $600 and $800, and a flight between $25,000 and $50,000.

Mayor Jason Buelterman said dangers on the bridge jeopardize drivers' safety, but crashes that block emergency medical services also compromise safety for 30,000 people on the island.

"What's frustrating is how long it's taken," Mayor Buelterman said. "I think this is a matter of public safety, and similar to what happened in Atlanta when the bridge collapsed at I-85. Permits were pushed through things were fast tracked, and something happened in short order. I think the same level of urgency needs to be brought to this situation."

Cla Arkwood has lived on Tybee Island for his whole life and knows that with only one, two-lane road to get on and off the Island, traffic backups can dictate his life like they did on Saturday.

"I wanted to leave the island to get my passport that day, but I couldn't," Arkwood said. "And then the next day, the post office was closed."

The mayor and Arkwood agree the ideal solution is a four-lane road, and Arkwood said road improvements would improve the quality of life.

"I could get places on time," he said. "There are not people going 45 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. You don't get stuck behind idiots."

Raymond Story has lived on the island for 11 years. He thinks the highway itself and the bridge are fine, and distracted or impaired drivers are causing the problem.

Regardless of the reason, he says not having street access for emergency medical care is concerning.

"We should have some kind of an emergency force here," Story said. "We've got the fire department. Sometimes they're here, and sometimes they're not, but yeah that is an issue. If we had a branch here just for that, that would be nice."

The Georgia Department of Transportation's long-term improvement plan for Highway 80 replaces the Bull River Bridge and the Lazaretto Creek Bridge. Jill Nagel, GDOT district five communications specialist, said early estimates expect the project $100 million, with 80 percent of the funding coming from the federal government and 20 percent coming from the state.

Right now, there is no completion date for this project. It is still in the environmental permitting process.

Because of the federal environmental requirements that must be met in this area, Nagel said she isn't sure if the department could speed up the permitting process, but she said GDOT does have immediate plans to improve safety.

Nagel said the department is implementing a quick-response program to improve driver safety. GDOT will restripe the Bull River Bridge, widen space between lanes on the bridge and add reflective, raised pavement markers to the center line and along the shoulder. Nagel said quick-response projects generally cost less than $200,000, and she said the Bull River Bridge project should be finished in the next 60 days.

Right now, repaving on Highway 80 is underway. Work isn't being done on the weekends, so it had no impact on Saturday's traffic backup.

You can expect roadwork Monday through Thursday, for the next three months except during these commute hours; 6 a.m. through 9 a.m. westbound and 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. eastbound.

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