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📅 Wed February 19, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson - CEG CORRESPONDENT
Residents of Savannah, Ga., can now see the finish line on the long trek that has been the building of the Truman Parkway.
Almost unbelievably, Savannah’s business and political leaders first discussed the road project more than 40 years ago.
The fifth and final phase of the Harry S. Truman Parkway is heading into its final months over the construction’s most difficult stretch: from Whitfield Avenue west across wetlands to Abercorn Street on the city’s south side, a distance of 2.08 mi. (3.3 km).
Once completed, the 8.8-mile (14.2 km) long Truman Parkway will give motorists two lanes in each direction with a 24-ft. (7.3 m) raised median.
As of Oct. 1, this last portion of the project is set to be open for traffic next March, according to the Georgia DOT.
A Freeway From North to South
The entire four-lane parkway was first conceived in the 1960s as the Casey Canal Parkway, but saw its name changed to honor the nation’s 33rd president, following his death in December 1972.
The purpose of the road was to give motorists a largely uninterrupted route from metropolitan areas east and south of Savannah to the historic downtown area. To that end, drivers will be able to travel along a freeway that stretches from President Street, just east of downtown along the Savannah River, south to Whitfield Avenue and then west to the busy Abercorn Street corridor, near Holland Drive.
Work did not begin on the parkway at all until 1990 and from that point progressed in starts and stops until the first portion of the project opened to traffic in 1997. At that time, only the part of the project from DeRenne Avenue northward was paved, while the section south of that interchange was unpaved. By 2007, both sections were fully paved and built to freeway standards.
Interestingly, the Truman Parkway is not a state route, but a Chatham County-maintained expressway, one of only a handful of county-operated freeways in the entire state. Even though the Georgia DOT is overseeing the construction, it will be serviced by the county once it is finished.
In December 2009, GDOT allocated $128 million to fund the building of the last phase of the Truman Parkway. That money came from a combination of federal funds and state fuel-tax revenue.
Final Phase Was the Most Difficult
Work began in earnest in the summer of 2010 on the final section of the project. This section was generally perceived as the costliest and most difficult portion of the parkway because the road has to cross the Wilshire Canal, the Vernon River and a large marshy area.
Crews from the Wilmington, N.C., location of Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. needed to build three sets of two parallel bridges across the wetlands. This was accomplished by erecting a temporary, movable work trestle that could hold a massive pair of Manitowoc 4100 cranes that were employed to drive the bridge pilings.
“They have driven a total of 1,763 piles into place just on those wetlands,” said Jill Nagel, communications officer of GDOT’s District 5/Southeast Georgia office in nearby Jesup.
“By using the trestle, which holds these two 500,000-pound cranes for work on two different ends of the bridges, they were able to minimize the environmental impact on the wetlands,” she added. “It is a fact that these cranes did not touch ground for 2½ years before making land again this past June.”
At the peak of the activity on the final phase, as many as 100 workers were busy on site.
Now, the road decks are being erected and paved and all other ancillary road work is being completed with an eye toward opening in spring.
When work began in 2010 on the final phase, the project was slated to be wrapped up by the end of 2013, but Nagel said that GDOT identified “things that came up that we saw needed to be done” to ensure that the work was completed to its specifications, causing the parkway’s opening to be pushed back three months. She would not elaborate on what specifically caused the delay.
Parkway Designed to
“You can really call the Truman an urban interloop,” Nagel said. “It will take traffic from the south side directly to downtown Savannah instead of having to go up Abercorn and winding through town to get there. Hopefully, it will take a lot of congestion off Abercorn.”
That congestion is really the main reason the Truman was built in the first place.
For decades, the major thoroughfare linking the south end of Savannah, with its leafy neighborhoods, to the downtown has been Ga. 204/Abercorn Street. Through the years, however, the Abercorn corridor witnessed a great deal of commercial and retail growth, along with a seemingly endless number of intersections and traffic lights. The result was that traffic bottlenecks became the norm.
At the point where the Truman Parkway ties into Abercorn are a number of shopping centers, restaurants and big box stores, so the completed portion of the parkway, with its traffic-light-free design, should be able to provide some relief for the heavy workday traffic.
Nearby DeRenne Avenue, north of the current construction activity, should also see a break from traffic congestion currently plaguing that roadway with the opening of the final phase of the Truman.
In addition, civic planners envisioned the residents of nearby Skidaway Island, just to the north and east of Savannah, as being beneficiaries of the completed Truman Parkway. Motorists from the island will be able to more easily access the retail stores and restaurants of the southern Abercorn corridor, as well as reach Interstate 95 quicker via Ga. 204.