Savannah Morning News column
Sunday, May 18, 2015
For people who live in Key West it is not uncommon to hear someone complain about needing to “get off the rock.” It might be to pick up a friend at the Miami International Airport, go to a doctor, visit the immigration office, catch a concert. While there is nothing shabby about the scenery outside your car – for much of the trip on U.S. 1 to Miami you are sandwiched between dense mangroves and stretches of crystal clear water of the Gulf of Mexico or the Straits of Florida – much of the 170 miles or nearly four-hour trip is two lane, which can be problematic, especially when you are stuck behind a school bus, a car hauling a boat or a cement truck you can’t see around.
You’re a bit isolated in Key West, culturally and physically. But life in the southernmost part of the U.S.A. is very pleasant, so to think twice before venturing north into the real world is not so horrible.
The same thing is apt to happen if you live in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. The roads are twisty-turny and serpentine. Traffic can back up. To pass or not to pass; that becomes the question. You don’t venture out as often as you might want to but life is good in the hills.
I’ve never lived in Atlanta but I imagine if I did I’d live and play and work within the perimeter. If friends wanted to get together they’d have to visit me.
For a long time traffic was the least of our problems in Savannah. Going to the airport? A breeze, even on a Friday afternoon. Traffic jams, as such, were few. Nothing to complain about. Yes Abercorn could be annoying, but like heading up to Miami you just didn’t go south. I have friends who live in the historic district for whom going “south of DeRenne” is akin to “getting off the rock.” You grit your teeth, turn on the radio and go where you need to. Same thing with traveling Waters Avenue. This is a street people love to complain about, even though it only measures six miles and except for an hour in the afternoon it really does move along.
I won’t even mention the occasionally irritating activity of driving downtown around the squares though now I’ve come to think of them as giant roundabouts. But guess what? They work. They slow traffic. Drivers are even getting in the habit of stopping to let people cross, which is what they are supposed to do,
So often, complaints about traffic in Savannah don’t hold water.
Still, that didn’t stop some of us (like me) from complaining about the Truman Parkway. Truth be told, I’ve started to use the Truman – to get to Armstrong, to the southside, to Burnside. It’s handy. Traffic moves quickly. I get to see beautiful patches of the marsh, even if it pains me to think of all that construction on the rivers and how damaging that must be for the environment.
But while we were spending all that money on the Truman, half the town – or so it seems (I tend to exaggerate) – was moving west to Bryan county, Effingham county, Liberty county. Cheaper housing. Safer neighborhoods. Better schools. Taxes to one entity – a county – instead of a county (Chatham) and a city (Savannah).
During that great migration – which continues – where were the traffic experts? All working on the Truman?
Has anyone been on Highway 80 lately? Highway 21? The south end of Abercorn? Or I-16 near those three counties?
It’s a mess. Unless you are an Atlanta transplant and you were nostalgic for traffic. Unless you like standing still. Unless you like being hectored by trucks tormenting you and on your tail.. Compared to this, traffic on the Truman is a breeze.
I can’t think of anything good to say about the situation except it’s introducing us to Highway 80, the new Highway 17 (before it got four-laned and built up with massive housing developments, shopping malls and sprawling schools). We’re seeing barbecue places we didn’t know existed. A Buddhist temple. Endless churches all promising everlasting life. Randy Wood Guitars (so that’s where it is). The cool looking Savannah Hydroponics and Organics business, which sits next to a very sprawling state Farmers Market with all those open air sheds, an empty parking lot and no farmers. What do you want to bet that turns into an outlet mall.
Maybe it’s time for another study.
Or light rail. Nah. Too logical.