TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman sent a letter to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. In it, he says something needs to be done immediately to fix Highway 80.
Buelterman goes into detail about recent crashes on the road and Georgia Department of Transportation's ongoing project to fix it.
The full letter reads:
"Dear Governor Deal,
As you enter the last seventeen months of your final term, I want to thank you for your stewardship of our great State. You have quietly and consistently been a voice of reason and thoughtfulness. You have steered our State clear of unnecessarily divisive issues. Your leadership has led our State to obtain a AAA bond rating. Under your leadership, we have built our State's Rainy Day Fund to more than $2 billion. You have effectively led efforts that have made our State a better place, like working to increase access to educational opportunities in Georgia's prison systems and saving the HOPE scholarship program from going bankrupt. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed. I believe you have led our State in an extremely intelligent manner and have seen firsthand how you methodically gather all the facts, ask the tough questions, and after consulting your highly qualified staff, make informed and forward-looking decisions that resolve complex problems.
"I am writing to ask that you use your influence over the remaining months of your administration to tackle one more extremely complex problem for coastal Georgia.
As you know, there is an urgent need to address safety issues on the Highway 80 Tybee causeway and the Bull River and Lazaretto Creek bridges. To give you a glimpse of how bad the problem has become, here is a summary of what has taken place on this stretch of road just over the past two weeks:
· On July 20 and 21, the Chatham Emergency Management Agency alerted coastal residents that Highway 80 would be subject to flooding due to higher than normal tides. Water reached the eastbound lanes pushing marsh wrack onto the roadway. This problem happens with regularity oftentimes forcing the closure of the roadway in both directions.
· On July 22, there was a major accident on the Bull River bridge forced the bridge to be closed down. No cars could get on or off the Island. Those involved in the accident were seriously injured. And because this wreck happened on a warm, sunny weekend, there were approximately 30,000 people on Tybee. We had no way to transport them off the Island using our ambulance service. After we were made aware of a woman on the beach suffering from serious seizures, our Police and Fire Departments were forced to call on the Medivac helicopter to transport her to a local hospital. Thousands watched as the helicopter landed on the beach so she could be treated. We had no other option."
(Viewer photo of Lifestar landing on Tybee's beach on July 22, 2017)
"· Later that same day, there was another accident--this time on the causeway—that led to delays and prevented vehicles from leaving Tybee.
· At about 11 pm on July 30, there was a three-car accident on the Bull River bridge. A car had run out of fuel on the westbound lane of the bridge. Another vehicle traveling westbound did not see the immobile vehicle until the last second. The driver tried avoid the car by turning into the eastbound lane but struck the immobile vehicle and hit another vehicle headed eastbound. The bridge has no emergency lanes so the drivers had nowhere to go to avoid hitting one another.
· On the evening of August 4, there was another wreck on the Bull River Bridge. Luckily no one was badly injured and the accident was cleared up but not before backing up traffic once again.
As I mentioned, this is just a summary of the last two weeks. It would take pages and pages to describe the incidents that have occurred just in the last 6 months.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has been working on plans to build two new bridges and make major safety improvements. As I have discussed with you, while I don't agree with the scope of the plan, what is being proposed is a massive improvement over the present situation. To their credit, GDOT continues to make progress on moving forward to address this long-overdue project. But they are hamstrung by rules and regulations put in place over the last few decades that are unnecessarily delaying the process. Consequently, they are having difficulty advancing the ball across the finish line.
But this is a matter of public safety. We need to think outside the box and set aside normal protocol before more people are injured or lose their lives. Governments at all levels have an obligation, above any of their other responsibilities, to ensure that their citizens are safe. One would be hard-pressed to find a more pressing matter of public safety in our State than this one.
I am told we are still years away from construction on GDOT's proposed project. The permitting process, the lengthy public comment periods, the acquisition of right-of-way, etc. are unnecessarily holding things up. I am writing to ask that you engage on this issue to push past the bureaucratic hurdles in a manner similar to the way the collapsed I-85 bridge was replaced in such short order.
(GDOT'S proposed plan)
"To be fair, the permitting process for this project is a bureaucratic nightmare. It is a state AND federal road, sits on federal property and traverses marshland and navigable waterways. But this project needs to be moved forward now--not two or three years from now. And in the meantime, more needs to be done to prevent accidents from occurring on such a regular basis.
I am respectfully pleading for your help with this. With an increase in visitation to Tybee combined with more and more distracted drivers on the road, accidents are occurring with far too much regularity.
For the sake of all of those who live on and visit Tybee, I urge you to use your considerable powers and influence to fast-track this project. I would also ask that you press GADOT to develop more safety measures in the interim.
Thanks for all you do for our State. Keep up the great work.
City of Tybee Island
CC: The Honorable Ben Watson
The Honorable Jesse Petrea"
This letter was posted on the Mayor's Facebook page.
The Mayor is urging all residents and Tybee Island visitors to contact the Governor's office. You can do so by calling 404.656.1776 or visiting here.