Longtime Effingham County resident Dan Elliot remembers when wildlife roamed the roadside, residents could grab a beer through the drive thru at the local hardware store, and Highway 21 was just two lanes.
According to Elliot, the landscape of Rincon changed when Fort Howard Paper Mill was built in 1986. Although it brought much-needed jobs to the area, it added to the city’s population.
And that was just the beginning.
Today, Rincon looks a lot different. Fast food joints are scattered throughout the community, warehouse construction is visible from the byway and morning commutes to Savannah take nearly an hour.
Residents like Elliot say they do not feel safe driving on roads that are bogged down with tractor-trailer trucks and countless cars.
To tackle issues within Effingham County’s transportation system, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is considering spending millions on improvements to the county's roadways, but some residents say the proposed improvements do not cover their most pressing needs.
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Effingham County’s key artery is Hwy. 21, and it is the only way for residents to get to I-95. It is a pivotal piece to the transportation system and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Proposed funding for improvements to Highway 21 totals $68 million and is listed as a long-term project in the Coastal Empire Transportation Study. The description states that the project's purpose "is to expand the corridor to accommodate the projected increase in freight traffic as a result of growth at area ports. Increased capacity on State Route 21 will also support planned industrial development in Effingham County.”
GDOT has proposed to widen it from four to six lanes starting from Highway 30 in Chatham County to 9th Street in Effingham County.
However, residents such as John Schwarzkopf say the bottleneck extends far beyond that 7-mile stretch.
“It will help but at the end of that, you are still going to have a chokepoint,” said Schwarzkopf.
Traffic congestion stretches for miles, with cars bumper-to-bumper for more than an hour. However, the planning division at GDOT is focused on the aforementioned area with hopes it will thin out the long string of drivers.
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"This is the area the study team determined to be the most congested, so we want to tackle that first to help alleviate that for those who travel through it each day,” said Matt Markham, deputy director of planning for GDOT.
State Road 30
Drivers who travel along State Road 30 used to cruise down the road with ease but now some motorists are using it as a shortcut to get to Hwy. 21, creating even more headaches and logjams, especially during the morning rush.
In the middle of the highway is a roundabout that leads to the Benton Boulevard Extension, bringing even more commuter traffic. Elliot said Hwy. 30 is not fit for the number of vehicles that flow through it each day.
“There are big rigs from companies like Kroger and other 18-wheelers going up and down a little dinky road,” said Elliot. “The regular car traffic is 10 times more than what it was when we moved here in 2004.”
But unfortunately, the two-lane road is not slated for improvements by GDOT at this time.
“Widening SR 30 was reviewed in the study and did not perform as well from a regional perspective as other recommendations and was thus not included in the final study,” said Markham.
He went on to say there are more recommendations related to the Effingham Parkway and once those are evaluated, SR 30 may be examined again.
'It's affecting me personally'
Longtime residents remember when Rincon was quiet and the loudest sounds came from crickets chirping at night, a minor inconvenience compared to the roaring engines of trucks nowadays. Folks like Elliot know Rincon won’t return to the quiet days of old but are hopeful the town’s transportation network will get the upgrades needed soon as their quality of life is top of mind.
“The whole network of train to truck from the ports – I don’t know how well thought out it was, but it didn't take the civilian population into account,” said Elliot. “The people that live here are just trying to get to the grocery store and back. It’s a lot like driving in North Atlanta. It's affecting me personally. The noise from the trucks going by is a little bit annoying. But there's plenty of loud motorcycles and other vehicles that make more noise than the trucks. The noise level has gone up and your stress level is going up along with it.”
All projects listed in the study are proposed plans. Those that are approved are slated to be complete by 2050.
Latrice Williams is a general assignment reporter covering Bryan and Effingham County. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: GDOT infrastructure improvements raise concerns for Rincon residents