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GDOT board chair eager to break ground for region’s new ‘gateway’ on I-16 at I-95
Purcell gives update on projects linking Statesboro to ports
GDOT Ann Purcell
Ann Purcell, State Transportation Board chair, speaks to the Statesboro Rotary Club during a recent club meeting. (AL HACKLE/staff)

State Transportation Board Chair Ann R. Purcell, in Statesboro last week, predicted a possible fall groundbreaking for a $260 million project that will replace the Interstate 16 interchange on I-95 and widen both sides of I-16 from there to Savannah.

“I’m hoping that maybe in September or October we will have the big groundbreaking on that,” Purcell said. “That will be a lighted interchange, the gateway to the rural area, the gateway for economic development.”

Speaking to the Rotary Club of Statesboro on July 8, she also talked about other projects affecting Bulloch County and the region. Purcell, a resident of Rincon in Effingham County, was previously an elected member of the Georgia House of Representatives at two separate times, 1991-2005 and 2009-2013.

She has served since 2013 as one of the 14 members of the Transportation Board, elected from each of Georgia’s congressional districts by members of the state Legislature. The board oversees the work of the Georgia Department of Transportation, which has more than 4,000 employees, through Transportation Commissioner Russell R. McMurray, who was hired by the board in January 2015.

 

Wider Route 67

Purcell is the member from the 1st Congressional District, which doesn’t include Bulloch County. But in a “Georgia DOT Update” booklet printed specially for her to distribute, the $41.2 million widening of State Route 67 from Statesboro to I-16 was listed first among “statewide” projects of interest, after the projects actually in the 1st District.

State-funded construction that began in November will widen almost 11 miles of Route 67 from two lanes to four, with a 44-feet-wide depressed median in part and a 14-foot two-way left turn lane in part, all within Bulloch County. This project also includes paved shoulders and bike lanes that will form part of a bicycle route called the March to the Sea. The GDOT expects the work to be substantially complete by fall 2020.

 

$¼ billion-plus

All of the projects Purcell highlighted during her talk are on or linked to the area’s two interstate highways. The already mentioned expansion of the I-95 interchange plus the addition of lanes on I-16 from the interchange to the I-516 connector in Savannah make up the most complex and by far the most expensive of those projects.

Purcell indicated that she is eager to hold that groundbreaking but doesn’t want to rush it.

“When I have a groundbreaking, this fall, or the latter part of that, in wintertime, it’s going to be when I have some backhoes behind me, because I want you, the public, to see action that is going on at I-16 and I-95, when we clear those old-timey cloverleaf ramps in that interchange there, and we’re going to have a first of its kind. It’s going to be a turbine-look.”

Of the first 11 Major Mobility Investment Program projects announced during former Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration, the I-16 and I-95 project was the only one in southern Georgia, Purcell said. Some GDOT lists show it originally was counted as two of the 11 projects.

It will cover a distance of 9.5 miles but will add 22 miles of new lanes, including one lane to be added on the eastbound and another on the westbound side. It also includes 15 bridges to be replaced or rehabilitated.

The interchange, currently a full cloverleaf pattern with four tightly wound, near-circular inner loops, is proposed to be replaced with a “partial turbine” arrangement. Instead of cloverleaf circles, motorists going from westbound lanes of I-16 to southbound I-95, and those from I-95 south to I-16 east, will transition by way of long, more gently arcing, near-semicircle ramps from outer lanes.

Two inner circles will still serve for other changes of direction.

The GDOT issued a notice to proceed on design work last October, with an estimate of this August for a notice to proceed on construction. Savannah Mobility Contractors, a joint venture of Dragados USA and Prince Contracting, was awarded the design-build contract, with a project cost of $260,520,016.

 

Finished ‘diamond’

Another Savannah-area project, which moved ahead faster in the state’s process and is now open, is the “diverging diamond” interchange on I-95 at Georgia Route 21. This was meant to improve traffic flow through Effingham County, including Rincon, to Savannah and from the Georgia Ports Authority port at Garden City.

This was the first “diverging diamond” interchange of its kind outside metro Atlanta, and another will be installed at Dean Forest Road, also known as State Route 307, with bids possibly to be let in October, Purcell said.

She noted GDOT support for changes to U.S. Highway 301 undertaken by Bulloch County at the I-16 interchange. This project has created lanes and median crossings to entrances and exits of the new industrial park being built there by the county. The city of Statesboro built water, sewer and natural gas lines to the industrial park and other quadrants of the interchange, within a county-created tax allocation district.

 

Links to ports

Purcell also described a extension of the Jimmy Deloach Parkway, connecting the I-16 and State Route 17 interchange to U.S. Highway 80, as improving the link between the Statesboro area and the Savannah and Brunswick ports. Work is now underway, and projected to be complete by October 2021, on the extension through southern Effingham and northern Chatham counties.

“It’s a better situation for Bulloch County as they are enticing people to come with industry and set up here,” she said. “The Georgia Ports (Authority) has worked very closely with us. We’ve worked very closely with them. Again, do you see that teamwork that you have, whether you’re in the city or the county, or your state, or your port. It’s very important for us for the infrastructure that we all continue to work very closely together.”

Purcell was unanimously selected as chair of the State Transportation Board by fellow board members last summer after serving as vice chair since 2017. The board member from the 12th Congressional District, which includes Bulloch County, is Don Grantham of Augusta.

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.