The Liberty County Development Authority meeting Friday saw little action on development of Exit 76 at I-95 and Islands Highway, one of the top priorities identified by about 70 county leaders at their annual planning workshop.
Jeff Ricketson, executive director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, gave a progress report to the LCDA board and information on a possible next step as well as an example of an interchange master plan, one done for an interchange on I-69 in Pike County, Indiana.
Ricketson said a similar plan done for Exit 76 in Midway would probably cost around $125,000. He reported on meetings with property owners and government officials dating back to April 2018.
The two-lane bridge that carries Islands Highway over I-95 was frequently cited as a bottleneck holding back development of the area. The interchange area is now home to two convenience stores/gas stations, two restaurants and a truck stop; a new fast food restaurant is under construction. A medical clinic lies in the northeast quadrant of the interchange along with the entrance to Tradeport East and the southeast quadrant is unoccupied and has been offered for sale by The Forum Group which owns other land in the area.
Ricketson said property owners were generally willing to see their land developed and some public participation was needed. The authority, Midway and the county commission would be involved in the next step.
“It’s going to be the public sector that organizes the plan,” Ricketson said. He pointed out that multijurisdictional cooperation had brought McDonalds to Exit 76.
LCDA Executive Director Ron Tolley said, “Let’s ask some questions on our own before we do a major study that costs $120,000.” He said the demand should be identified.
“Why should we study what has already been studied?” asked state Rep. Al Williams, a member of the authority. “We have seen study after study after study.”
County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said, “We don’t want to hold the project back . . . could you pull those old plans and come back to us at the next meeting?” Ricketson agreed and emailed Midway’s master plan from 2006 and Riceboro’s from 2011 to the group’s members early Friday afternoon. “These plans are useful in that they provide guidance in land use and appearance, however they are missing specificity on water and sewer development and road improvements as well as industrial and commercial market analysis,” he said.
Development of Exit 76 was chosen as a top priority at Liberty County’s annual countywide planning workshop in March, along with imposition of a Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax and authorization of a tax exemption for industries in e-commerce.
A majority at the workshop voted to continue to hold the annual workshops each March at the King and Prince Resort on St. Simons Island.
Parker can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.