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Project DeRenne considers new 516 connector

8 November 2009 34,111 views No Comment

The newest plan for reducing traffic on DeRenne Avenue rejects an elevated highway and throws out road widening but it proposes a modified idea discussed years earlier.

The latest development from Project DeRenne envisions cutting into a corner of Hunter Army Airfield to create an extension of Interstate 516. It would connect with a new gate for the base and continue south to Hampstead Avenue, which would be widened from two to four lanes to accommodate traffic wanting to continue south onto White Bluff Road.

Unlike the Hampstead Connector idea of old, it would not extend a widened Hampstead east to Abercorn.

The new road acts as the biggest contributors to backed-up traffic along 516 and DeRenne in the mornings and afternoons. Commuters trying to make its way to and from Hunter and to neighborhoods to the south and east, said Rob Hume, project manager for Project DeRenne, a city of Savannah led effort to ease traffic congestion while restoring a more neighborhood-friendly feel along the major east-west corridor.

New traffic studies show that of the 55,000 vehicles traveling daily along 516 and the first portion of DeRenne, 20,000 are turning onto White Bluff or Abercorn as soon as they get past Hunter to go south.

Each morning, Hume said, traffic on 516 backs up about 1 mile. The free-flowing lane into Hunter would reduce the backup by about 30 percent.

On White Bluff and Abercorn, the difference is more dramatic.

The wait to turn left onto DeRenne from White Bluff would be reduced 67 percent; on Abercorn, 22 percent.

The curved entry to Hunter’s Montgomery gate south of DeRenne would be closed, and Mildred Street, which is closed off by concrete barricades at DeRenne, would reopen. Those two steps would restore a more traditional grid pattern to Poplar Place and would reduce traffic through the neighborhood’s midsection, Hume said.

“This neighborhood could heal,” he said.

This, however, is where the hiccup lies.

A Hunter official who reviewed the new proposal Friday did not reject it outright, but said taking, as much of the corner as DeRenne planners want would interrupt construction plans at the base, Hume said. The two groups are discussing a second option - expanding an outer road that still would create a lane from 516 to Hunter and Hampstead, but cut into west-end homes along Birchfield Drive.

That proposal isn’t favored by Project DeRenne advocates because it violates a guiding principle of neighborhood preservation.

For Poplar Place residents, it is all-too-familiar territory.

Melissa Bates, vice president of the neighborhood association, also is on the DeRenne advisory committee. Her first reaction was to reject a wider Hampstead, but she is trying to make her peace with it.

“It’s better than the Hampstead Connector, I’ll say that,” she said.

She likes the idea of closing Montgomery Street, and prefers the city’s option of not cutting into the west end of the neighborhood.

“It merges and doubles the critical mass of the neighborhood,” she said.

M.C. Stanford and his family own three homes along Birchfield Drive. If he wants to leave his street from 4 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, he has to wait for a courteous driver who will let him cut into the line of cars, which backs up from the light at Montgomery almost to the gates at Hunter.

“If not,” he said, “sometimes you wait the longest to get out.”

He doesn’t want to leave his home, but if a road is cut through, he’d rather leave than deal with exhaust fumes and traffic noise any closer to his property.

The idea for decongesting traffic has been around for years, he said with a shrug.

“What one they’re going to do, who knows? I think where they can buy homes for the cheapest that is where it’s going to go. ”

A breakdown of the Project DeRenne proposal

A proposal from Project DeRenne would create a new roadway connecting Interstate 516 and White Bluff Road, which would remove up to 20,000 vehicles a day from more eastern portions of DeRenne.

Free-flowing lanes would lead to a new entrance for Hunter Army Airfield, and the curved entry to the Montgomery gate at Hunter south of DeRenne would be closed to restore neighborhood integrity.

The proposal calls for using a portion of Hunter’s property. A second option would use less of Hunter’s property, but it would require cutting into the southwest corner of the Poplar Place neighborhood.

In both options, Hampstead Avenue would be widened from two lanes to a four-lane boulevard with a median.

By Lesley Conn

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