Georgia Department of Transportation Board member Ann Purcell likes to joke she will have life-size photo cutouts of herself and Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed made in case neither lives long enough to see work begin on the long-anticipated I-95 interchange at Belfast Keller Road.
Those cutouts weren’t needed last week as, alive and smiling, Burnsed attended a different watershed moment for the interchange. The DOT held a public-information open house at the Bryan County Administrative Complex in South Bryan.
He said the session was heartening “because it’s now on the DOT STIP (State Transportation Improvement Plan) list, and what that means is the DOT is committed to building it as long as federal highway funds are renewed before next May,” said Burnsed, who championed the interchange for decades. “It’s in their budget.”
The $17 million project is expected to be let for bid in the spring of 2018 and will include a two-lane bridge with sidewalks and roundabouts on Belfast Keller — that portion once was called Belfast Siding — instead of traffic lights. The land was donated by Rayonier, according to the commission chairman, and the paper-company giant also paid for the engineering.
“That makes it a plus for the DOT,” Burnsed said. “They don’t have to acquire anything there.”
In all, nearly 90 people attended the information session, DOT communications officer Jill Nagel said, and most of the feedback was positive. Among those who attended was Roy Hubbard, an environmentalist and former Green Beret.
He lauded the project.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for growth in the county, as long as that growth is controlled and well-thought-out, and as long as proper zoning is in place to keep it appropriate,” Hubbard said.
Though he lives on Belfast Keller, Hubbard said the new interchange won’t make a difference to him because he’s retired.
“I don’t really have to go anywhere in a hurry, so that doesn’t make any difference to me,” Hubbard said. “But there are a lot of people out there it does make a difference to.”
The roundabouts are something new to the DOT, which has begun incorporating them into designs to help avoid the need for lights. Roundabouts are not new, though.
“It works all over Europe, they’ve got roundabouts everywhere, so I don’t know why it shouldn’t work here,” Burnsed said.
The plan for the interchange is online at www.dot.ga.gov. Go to “public outreach” on the right-hand side of the home page and then select the county the project is in. Newer projects are at the bottom of the list.