TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - The city of Tybee Island is taking matters into their own hands to fund a portion of the $105 million federal project to widen U.S. Highway 80 and replace the very narrow Bull River and Lazaretto Creek bridges.
This comes seven months after a WTOC investigation where we uncovered that this project was among many projects across Georgia that have fallen victim to flawed practices and protocols within the Georgia Department of Transportation.
On GDOT's original priority list, construction to widen the bridges and Hwy 80 was supposed to start next year. But when GDOT receives the federal funds, they get to decide which projects to fund next and so construction on this project has now been pushed to 2026.
Now, the mayor of Tybee Island is looking to get this project expedited sooner.
So far, only two out of the five phases have been completed and funded with federal dollars. But according to GDOT's timeline, they don't plan to allocate any more federal dollars to this project until 2024 when they plan to start the right of way construction.
Since this is a U.S. highway, it's at the mercy of federal money. Until now.
"I mean, this is very important for Tybee," Mayor Jason Buelterman said.
This week Buelterman will ask city council members to approve spending $275,000 dollars to fund the Right of Way portion of the project.
"We'll have the money. My hope is that – and we've already made the request to the county – where they would help fund half of this and we would pitch in the other half," Buelterman said.
In November, the GDOT planning director told WTOC that safety is their number one priority. But GDOT has yet to fulfill an open records request and show where this project sits on their list of priorities.
But we do know there are a dozen other projects – benefitting the ports - that were pushed ahead and prioritized. Meanwhile, the Lazaretto Creek and Bull River bridges are sitting with failing scores of 41 and 61; and the road continues to be compromised by wrecks and high tides.
"In researching how other projects are fast-tracked, I've found that with the ports authority, with the county, with Effingham County and with others, this is not without precedence. There is a precedence for locals pitching in for federal and state projects to help move the ball down the field," Buelterman said.
Tybee's resolution to spend the money to complete Phase 3 also urges GDOT to prioritize the completion of the project for the sake of the safety of all who travel to-and-from Tybee.
"There's no way that Tybee or the county could afford $112 million; that's not what we are doing at all. We are following precedence set by other authorities and governments where the locals pitch in a little bit of money so that the big pot of money for construction can be funded quicker than otherwise," Buelterman said.
Tybee Island City Council will vote on the $275,000 resolution this Thursday. That money will not be reimbursed.
What we are learning is that with these federally funded projects, there are unwritten expectations for locals to put some skin in the game to get their project prioritized.
If city council approves the money. Phase 3 could be completed in about a year. The mayor says construction could then be moved up to start in 2020 instead of 2026.