March 6-12, 2006

GDOT To Look at Better Road Access for Ports

Christian Livermore

Two state transportation studies will look at ways to more effectively move truck traffic to and from the Port of Savannah.

The first study will examine truck-only lanes and other infrastructure improvements on roads to and from the port to facilitate the flow of truck traffic.  The second study will examine the feasibility of a truck-only toll road.

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Doug Marchand in his 2004 State of the Port address stressed the need for better road infrastructure to support truck traffic delivering cargo to and from the port.  He said this was important not only to allow the port to grow, but to prevent its operations from interfering with the quality of life of adjacent residents.

Among the changes he called for were extending Jimmy DeLoach parkway to Dean Forest Road.  Currently it starts at the Crossroads Business Center, crosses Georgia Highway 21 and dead ends.

“By extending Jimmy DeLoach to Dean Forest Road, we could not only provide a more direct truck route from I-95 to our port, but we could eliminate much of the truck traffic on existing roads,” Marchand said.

Another key project Marchand called for was construction of the Brampton Road Connector, which would create about a mile of new roadway with overpasses.  Marchand said it would eliminate future congestion and improve the flow of traffic to Container Gate 3.

“The project would eliminate an intersection that cannot be further improved and conflicts with local rail switching operations,” he said.

 Other projects he called for included improvements to Grange Road, the road that services a large portion of the traffic on the northern side of the terminal facilities.

GPA board members have been working with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), the local state legislative delegation and the congressional delegation to explore ways to accelerate improvements of the port-area road system, GPA board Vice Chair Stephen Green said.

“Given the past several years of record growth and the anticipated increase in container traffic through the Savannah port, we need to explore every avenue to improve the road transportation in and out of the port,” he said.

In his 2004 State of the Port address, Marchand said he expected a 150 percent increase in container volume over the next 15 years.
The first study, being conducted for the GDOT, will examine truck-only lanes specifically on Interstates 95 and 16 proximate to the Port of Savannah, as well as Georgia 21 and U.S. Highway 80, “and every other route that either does or could conceivably help move truck traffic in and out of the port,” GDOT spokesman David Spear said.

The study will place greater focus, however, on other less dramatic infrastructure changes that will move truck traffic more efficiently and safely. Those changes may include widening roads or intersections, installing turn lanes or acceleration and deceleration lanes, and widening turn radia on curves and intersections.

“Anything we can do to facilitate that movement,” Spear said.  “The port is a huge, huge economic engine for the state, and it’s growing and truck traffic is growing and anything we can do to facilitate that movement and that growth and enhance the safety of it is obviously something we’re very much interested in.”

The Savannah portion is part of a larger study that will examine the feasibility of truck-only lanes on interstate highways statewide.  The GDOT expanded the scope of the study to include the Savannah-area roads on urging from Marchand and state Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson.

“I’m in favor of anything that would reduce truck traffic through the communities of west Chatham,” Johnson said.  “The DOT study will determine whether these will do that.  I am assuming that through this process we will come up with a solution that will help the ports continue to grow without damage to the quality of life in west Chatham.”

HNTB Corp., a Kansas City-based firm with offices in Atlanta, is conducting the Savannah portion of the study.  The GDOT is in the final stages of securing a contract with HNTB. The study is expected to begin within a month to six weeks.  It will cost about $1.9 million and take 18 months to complete.

Because the GDOT has its own budget, generated from the federal gasoline tax, it could give the green light itself to any infrastructure projects resulting from the study, Spear said.  GDOT officials would consult with Chatham County and port officials, as well as the General Assembly and the governor’s office, then would hold a series of public hearings before moving forward with any projects.

Theoretically, Spear said, the GDOT cold begin some improvement projects in 2008.

“We know definitely that we want to make improvements to ingress and egress to the port,” he said. “So the Savannah study is going to be more of a pre-implementation, prioritizing what we need to do and where we need to do it.”

The second study, to be conducted by the State Road and Toll Authority, will look at the feasibility of building a separate truck-only toll road from the Garden City port terminal on Interstate 516 across Georgia Ports Authority property to Interstates 95 and 16, and potentially extending to the proposed Effingham Parkway.

The study will be funded with a $472,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration Value Pricing Program.

The study will examine how other states handle toll roads, and will develop data on truck travel, such as what kinds of trucks and the number of trucks that would use the road, what kinds of cargo they carry, and destination points.  This will help the authority figure out how much money it would need to build the road and if there is enough truck traffic to support the construction, said Lisa Thompson, director of communications for the Authority.

“They may get to the end of it and say there’s not enough truck traffic; they may get to the end of it and say there’s plenty of truck traffic,” she said. “At this point, all of those are question marks that this feasibility study will answer.”

The study will also develop a financing plan for building the road.  This will help officials determine how much the toll must be.

If the toll road is approved, the state would issue bonds to pay for the construction. The toll collections would be used to secure and repay the bonds.

The study will also look at another source of revenue for the road by allowing cars and other non-truck traffic on the road during certain hours of the day.

“Maybe during certain times of the day you’ve got additional capacity on the road,” she said. “So instead of having it be idle, allow cars to travel on it for a certain price.”

The Georgia General Assembly would have to approve construction and the issuance of bonds to fund the road.

The study is expected to begin in June and take a bout a year to complete. This will be the first study the state had done to examine linking aa toll road directly with a port.

The only toll road in Georgia right now is Georgia highway 400 in Atlanta, which generates about $23 million a year.