Easing DeRenne Traffic Congestion Critical for Emergency Crews - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Easing DeRenne Traffic Congestion Critical for Emergency Crews

DeRenne Avenue DeRenne Avenue

Good news for anyone who drives along DeRenne Avenue in Savannah. That stretch of road is often very congested with a lot of stop-and-go traffic, but the City of Savannah is working this week to speed up your commute.

They have resynchronized the traffic lights at nine intersections along DeRenne from Montgomery Street to the Truman Parkway. Traffic engineers say drivers won't see any drastic improvements, but they are hoping it cuts out a couple minutes of your drive.

"You probably won't notice a lot of difference," said traffic engineer Steven Henry. "Maybe the vehicles that travel it day in and day out will notice a little here and there and improve our travel time on DeRenne."

This latest improvement isn't final. Engineers will be tweaking the lights a little over the next few weeks to speed up the travel time as much as they can.

It's one thing to get stuck in traffic on DeRenne if you're late for work or trying to get to the grocery store. It's quite another if you're driving an ambulance and have a critical patient in the back. We rode along with paramedics from MedStar to see firsthand how they maneuver through gridlocked DeRenne traffic.

Paramedics say getting stuck in traffic when they taking someone who's been shot or having a heart attack to the hospital is devastating.

"Some of the worst times in the day to drive 'code three'--lights and sirens--is in the morning between 7:00 and 9:00 and in the afternoon 4:30 to 6:30, because we have to maneuver into oncoming traffic lanes," said paramedic Lt. Bryan Riley.

Riley is all too familiar with the traffic problem on DeRenne Avenue. "Sometimes if the traffic is gridlocked," he said. "We get stuck three to four minutes, not even moving."

Those minutes mean everything when you're an emergency responder. "Sometimes that can mean the chance of life or death, like if someone is in cardiac arrest."

DeRenne Avenue is a main artery for many ambulances. When the all the lanes of traffic on DeRenne are packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, paramedics can only move if the traffic in front of them moves.

"As the level one trauma center for the region, we get ambulances from Toombs County, Vidalia, Effingham County, Screven County, for a 150-mile radius," said Amy Hughes, a vice president for Memorial Health University Medical Center. "And we need those ambulances to get their patients here in the necessary amount of time and provide the life-saving care they need."

Hughes is happy to hear the city is synchronizing the lights. "Synchronization of lights on DeRenne is a very important first step, but unfortunately it's not going to be the final answer in ensuring the access for emergency care vehicles that we need to have for this community," she said. 

So what is the answer?

"We haven't supported any specific remedies--widening or a flyover--but we feel very strongly that this is a problem our community and region needs to address as a priority as soon as possible," said Hughes.

So paramedics like Lt. Riley can get their patients to the hospital as fast and safely as they can.

Paramedics aren't just concerned about the patients they're transporting, but they also have the safety of other drivers on the road on their minds. Any improvement in the flow of traffic is a very good thing for them.

Paramedics say they'd love to have traffic lights that turn green when an emergency vehicle approaches, but traffic engineers say it's expensive and city leaders would need to budget for it. And that still wouldn't take care of all the congestion.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter, mpaynter@wtoc.com

Powered by Frankly