TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - UPDATE: For the first time, Island residents are seeing how the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to replace the bridges over both the Bull River Bridge and Lazaretto Creek on U.S. Highway 80.
A public information forum was held Tuesday where many residents asked the question, ‘why is this bridge design another two-lane bridge?’ DOT says there are a few different answers to that question, but the biggest is the environment.
They say their goal is to have the smallest environmental footprint that they can on this project, because this is Coastal Georgia with wetlands that need to be preserved. Another justification for the two-lane bridges is the pedestrian walkway on the bridges, as well as an eight-foot shoulder.
DOT says this should eliminate most problems we are currently running into, from shutting down Highway 80 to crashes and trying to get ambulances on and off the island.
“When we say two lanes, you are still going to have a lot of room, so if there is an accident, you have that emergency shoulder,” said Jill Nagel, Georgia Department of Transportation. “If someone breaks down, they’ve got the emergency shoulder to get off, so it will not impede traffic.”
“We were told not too long ago that it’s possible that construction could start in 2018. Well, it’s April 2019 now,” said Tybee Island Mayor, Jason Buelterman.
To the surprise of many Tybee residents, the new bridges will still be two-lanes. Mayor Buelterman has been advocating for a four-lane concept for nearly 15 years. His disappointment didn’t outweigh his excitement in the process.
“What they are proposing is a drastic improvement from what we currently have,” he said. “I think it’ll make for a much safer situation out here.”
The new Bull River Bridge would be built south of the current bridge. The manager of the Bull River Marina says it’ll completely impact boaters on the water in Georgia.
“We provide them with fuel, water, and bathrooms, and we would be shut down. We would be gone," Gina Hughey said.
“Not only would this be devastating to us during the construction phase, because they already told us they are going to close us down. They are going to have derricks and cranes and barges all over us while they are building the new bridge and taking down the old bridge," said the owner of the Bull River Marina, Dr. James Daly.
Despite the Bull River Marina's objection on the placement of the new bridge, they agree islanders deserve a new bridge.
“We think the project needs to go through. We would vote for this project and go with the will of the people.”
Georgia DOT has hit a roadblock. Currently, none of the more than $100 million project is funded. Therefore, officials aren’t sure of a timeline.
“So we have to lobby and advocate to get that $112 million allocated to make what they are seeing inside today a reality.”
We spoke with some supporters of the project who didn’t want to go on camera. The popular opinion was that Georgia DOT had to collaborate and check in with many different agencies and factors. They believe this plan is the most accommodating to everyone involved.
On Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation will hold an information open house to discuss the project updates on the proposed plans necessary to replace the Bull River and Lazeretto Creek bridges on U.S. Highway 80.
The public is invited to give input on the projects. The meeting is April 30 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Tybee Island Public Safety Building, located at 78 Van Horne Avenue.
Those who have been involved in wrecks on the Bull River Bridge say they want the state to add more lanes to make it safer.
“How many more times do we have to have people die on a bridge before we get four lanes,” questioned August Williams, who lives on Tybee.
Williams knows too well how devastating a car crash on the bridge can be.
“There was a bridge crash with a 15-passenger van and a minivan,” Williams said. “My family was in the 15-passenger van, and those two people didn’t make it out of that car, which is unfortunate. We also had a friend pass away a couple years ago who was driven off the bridge on her moped.”
After experiences like that, Williams said the solution to make the drive on and off the island is simple.
“It’s time for a four-lane bridge," he said. "I appreciate the repairs, but we need a four-lane bridge. It’s time to stop spending money on ridiculous things when it’s just safety.”
Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen says GDOT has already said it won’t be a four-lane bridge, but it will be wider.
“It’s going to be a two-lane traffic with break down lanes and some bike lanes,” he said.
Gillen hopes that extra space keeps the accidents that do happen from blocking traffic to and from the island.
“It’s not just accidents on the bridge," he said. “It’s the fact that it shuts down traffic, so if we have a medical emergency on the island during that time period, that’s what keeps me up at night.”
He also hopes the GDOT proposal includes a plan to reduce flooding, which can also close Highway 80.
If you can’t make it to Tuesday’s open house, citizens can provide comments until Tuesday, May 14 by:
Online at www.dot.ga.gov/PS/Public/PublicOutreach (follow steps 1-3 below).
- From the menu, select Chatham County and click Go;
- Then select 04/30/19 0010560, SR 26/US 80 Project;
- Lastly, click Comment and follow the instructions to leave your comments.
Mailing comments to Mr. Eric Duff, Georgia Department of Transportation, 600 West Peachtree Street NW, 16th Floor, Atlanta, Georgia 303308.