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GDOT Replacing Two Bridges Near Tybee Island; Stockbridge's Cochran Park Gets Upgrade

Thu April 06, 2023 - Southeast Edition #8
Savannah Morning News & GDOT

U.S. 80 Lazaretto Creek Bridge. (Photo courtesy of GDOT)
U.S. 80 Lazaretto Creek Bridge. (Photo courtesy of GDOT)

The roadway linking Savannah to the beach community of Tybee Island saw the finish of preliminary work earlier this year ahead of a much larger project beginning in 2025 to replace two bridges along the highway by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).

U.S. Highway 80/Georgia Highway 26 is frequently the scene of traffic bottlenecks even when the weather is inhospitable to beach-going sunbathers heading to Tybee Island.

But the two-lane road began to see rare winter traffic logjams January through March as GDOT took the first steps to construct new bridges over Bull River and Lazaretto Creek, both of which carry traffic on and off the island. At its eastern end is the small town of Tybee Island, featuring sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

Between Talahi Island and Tybee Island, the two-lane rural highway has intermittent passing lanes and is the only connection between the mainland and Tybee.

The Savannah Morning News reported that the pre-construction work was performed day and night during the winter, which came as a surprise to many Tybee commuters who expressed frustration with slow-going traffic at the Bull River Bridge for an entire month. More work was done at the Lazaretto Creek span in March, and in both cases, crews closed one of the two lanes, allowing only a single direction of traffic at a time while reserving the other lane for the bridge work.

According to Jill Nagle, a spokesperson of GDOT's Southeast Region, engineers studied the Bull Creek Bridge's substructure, but could not utilize a barge because much of the structure spanned sensitive marshland. GDOT performed the same work at Lazaretto Creek.

The state agency announced plans to replace the bridges in early 2022 after decades of lobbying by local government officials and residents. The current structures were built in the 1960s and have never been upgraded. When finished, they will be wide enough to accommodate a breakdown lane and a bicycle/pedestrian lane, which can be used for emergency vehicles.

Nagel added that the cost of construction for both bridges is approximately $60 million and is part of a $100 million effort to widen the roadway from the mainland to Chatham County's only beach town.

The project's parameters are within U.S. 80/Ga. 26's intersection with Johnny Mercer Boulevard, about a quarter mile west of Bull River Bridge, to a point just east of the Lazaretto Creek Bridge on Tybee Island.

The new spans are designed to be 52-ft.-wide with two 12-ft. travel lanes, 10-ft. shoulders on each side, and a 10-ft. barrier-separated bike/pedestrian lane on the north side, according to GDOT. The proposed roadway would include a pair of 12-ft. lanes with 12-ft. shoulders on both sides.

Bridges are Critical to Hurricane Evacuation

The U.S. 80/Ga. 26 bridges and roadway corridor also is important because it is designated as a tropical storm evacuation route on the Georgia Hurricane Plan, as well as a future bikeway in the state's Metropolitan Planning Organization's Long-Range Plan.

Travel between Tybee Island and Savannah is currently limited on these bridges and poses a particular challenge for drivers during peak tourism season, and for special events and festivals held on the island throughout the year. Additionally, Lazaretto Creek Bridge is structurally deficient and eligible for replacement, GDOT noted.

No additional through lanes would be included in the road and bridge improvements, the state agency announced, but right- and left-hand turn lanes will be added at the entrances to McQueen's Island Trailhead, Fort Pulaski National Monument, and Lazaretto Creek Boat Ramp.

Henry County Begins Renovation of Cochran Park

In the southeastern Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge, Henry County officials broke ground in March on renovations and additions to the 12-acre Mickie D. Cochran Park.

The rehab effort, at 301 Banks Road, is expected to take about six months, the county said in a news release.

The approximately $3.8 million project will include the construction of two full-sized basketball courts, a large pavilion for community events, and a two-story concession building with restrooms on the first level and an area for scorekeepers on the second.

Additionally, plans call for an overhaul of the park's existing football field, the replacement of lights, fencing, goalposts and scoreboards, and the creation of more walking paths.

The project will mean demolishing all existing park structures, such as the parking lot, tennis courts and playground. In their place, a paved plaza will be built, along with a larger playground, a local art installation, an outdoor fitness area with shaded cover, a warm-up and practice area, and a quarter-mile paved loop pathway.

"In the time since the park was originally built, the county acquired adjacent property, which we can use to create trails that weave through the surrounding woods," Lynn Planchon, Henry County's director of capital projects, noted in the news release. "Kids will also notice a new playground with an adjacent shade structure. It's really going to be an impressive setup."

J.R. Bowman Construction Co., from McDonough, will handle Cochran Park's primary design and construction, while Musco Lighting, an Iowa firm, will install the field lighting.

"We need to think about what parks do," said Henry Commissioner Vivian Thomas, in whose district the park is located. "This is an opportunity for everyone in the community to have a place to go and relax and work on their health and development."

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