Highlands residents leave city meeting upset after discussing future of Benton Blvd.

Highlands residents upset after meeting with city to discuss Benton Blvd. extension project

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - UPDATE: In a news release Thursday, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said his top priority is listening to residents’ concerns regarding the Benton Boulevard extension project.

He says lifting our commercial truck ban is a nonstarter for the Highlands Community, and he will stand firm against truck traffic in neighborhoods.

The mayor and city officials have agreed to continue negotiations with the Department of Transportation, Chatham County, and other stakeholders to find alternative solutions to the Highlands traffic congestion while maintaining the truck ban.

Wednesday night, the City of Savannah brought their second plan to Highlands residents on how to deal with extra traffic after the Georgia Department of Transportation and Chatham County finish their Benton Boulevard extension project.

The project will link Benton Boulevard to Highway 30 in Effingham, offering drivers another way to get to Savannah, but the state wants it to be another way for trucks to and from the Georgia Ports.

During the meeting, about 300 Highlands residents passionately told City of Savannah leaders to go back to the drawing board and come up with another plan that doesn’t include lifting the truck ban on Highlands and Benton boulevards.

“The crowd, of course, is upset about it, so you saw all of the anger and frustration from the community,” said resident, Rhonda Smith.

When the extension project finishes, traffic will increase significantly. It’s a ticking time bomb for the city to come up with solutions. One of those options would widen both Highlands and Benton boulevards to four lanes.

“We don’t want them to have to drive through warehouses to get out of here. We don’t want them to have semi trucks in front of their schools,” said Savannah Mayor, Eddie DeLoach.

The city said the state would fund the additional widening project if the city lifts their 18-wheeler ban on Highlands Boulevard. It would offer trucks another way of getting in and out of the ever-growing Georgia Ports Authority.

Some residents left Wednesday night feeling like there isn’t much else they can do.

“We’re not going to be able to vote this down. It’s going to happen,” said resident, Vinnie Ciriello.

“Like I said, I think the decision has already been made,” said another resident, Ethel Williams. “I don’t know if there’s anything we can do.”

The city’s commercial truck traffic ban went in place two years ago. Mayor DeLoach said some people will be happy, and some won’t.

“We have to work with the state," Mayor DeLoach said. "The state controls this, and we need to do what we can do and try to compromise so long term, we all get through this and see if it we can make it better.”

Some residents are sticking to “no trucks.”

“I just hope, for the sake of this community and the children who go to this school, they definitely put a stop to the truck traffic,” Smith said.

Other residents are proposing time restrictions if the trucks are eventually allowed by the city.

“They could restrict the truck traffic for certain hours so people can get to school and work in the mornings, and then get home in the afternoon,” said Ciriello.

So what’s next? The city manager said they’ll take the feedback and consider it along with continued discussions with GDOT. Unlike what residents believe, city officials said nothing is set in stone. Eventually, the city will add the plan to a city council meeting agenda for a vote, but at this time, it has not been.

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