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The Honorable Erik Johnson
Dear Senator Johnson:
The Georgia Department of Transportation has proposed to widen Highway 80 from Bull River to Tybee Island. While this project is not on the priority list for The Chatham County Planning Commission and has not had public hearings to get input from local citizens, it has proceeded over the years.
To date GDOT has spent $8,000,000 acquiring Bird Island which was not budgeted by Chatham County - apparently the purchase was funded by GDOT contrary to the way projects are generally managed. See enclosed Tybee News November/December 2002. Additionally, GDOT has paid for all right-a-ways and engineering studies, usually funded locally. Could it be that GDOT is attempting to avoid local input by not requesting local funds for these costs? It is interesting to note that GDOT Director, Tom Coleman, owns a home on Tybee Island.
In the only Town Hall meeting that GDOT has conducted on Tybee (we were told that this was not a public hearing - only a briefing session) the justification for the project was: 1) adequate hurricane evacuation and 2) to increase the capacity on Highway 80 to meet projected needs. Attached is my letter to Joe Palladi, GDOT State Urban Design Engineer and his response. As stated in my letter, if citizens wait for the storm surge before evacuating they will be too late. According to the Savannah Morning News, the biggest lesson learned form Hurricane Floyd is to leave early. If Floyd had struck many people would likely have drowned on I - 16. Highway 80 is 20 miles to the east of I - 16 and waiting will only cause people to be stranded before they can reach safety.
To address the second justification - increase the capacity on Highway 80, Chatham County MPC has questioned the projections that GDOT used for the need for additional capacity. Additionally, GDOT does not seem to understand the "funnel effect" of widening a road to a barrier island where here is no egress. Perhaps they are experienced with planning of Metro Atlanta, but apparently do not understand the issues facing a small island overwhelmed by weekend tourism.
Two citizen surveys have been conducted regarding the proposed four-lane. One by the City of Tybee Island shows slightly over 50% of islanders favoring the road. A previous poll, conducted on-line by a local political group shows 28% in favor. There is no majority opinion on building this road.
We plead with you to investigate the need, the priority and the budget for this project.
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