What the estimated 19,000 motorists who drive this route daily between Savannah and the Hilton Head, Bluffton and Hardeeville areas need is a safer, more efficient passage — and the best way to get that is with a four-lane U.S. 17 on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River and a four-lane Back River Bridge on Georgia’s side. This current route just north of Savannah isn’t just an accident waiting to happen. It has happened. Repeatedly. And it’s no wonder. Northbound traffic that flies down from the four-lane Talmadge Bridge toward South Carolina gets funneled into a two-lane bottleneck, which starts immediately at the narrow Back River Bridge and extends for several miles into South Carolina.
In the other direction, southbound traffic from South Carolina to Georgia often gets stacked up. The speed limit is 55 mph. But that’s more like a suggestion. So the slow pokes and speed demons often play a risky, real-life game of chicken when it comes to passing.
Highway planners in both states know what they need in the way of improvements. Unfortunately, they have come up short in the execution.
Georgia is building a new Back River Bridge, which was needed yesterday. And while the new span will be wider, it’s still going to be only two lanes.
South Carolina is apparently going to widen U.S. 17 to four lanes at some point. But it’s South Carolina’s obligation to build a second, two-lane bridge over the Back River to eliminate the bottleneck. Unfortunately, there’s no timetable for any of this work — probably because no money has been found.
Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden and S.C. Transportation Secretary Robert Onge need to schedule a meeting of the minds. And pronto.
Daily traffic on U.S. 17 between the two states is expected to grow to 35,000 by 2016, when Georgia expects to complete its Back River Bridge project. Since this is a two-state problem, it’s ridiculous not to coordinate a larger, two-state solution. Mr. Golden and Mr. Onge must find a way to be on this ride together.