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HST Parkway in Savannah - An Engineer's Biggest Challenge!
By James R. Chambers, PE, Transportation Design Manager, and Gregory Ramsey, EIT, Design Group Manager, Jordan, Jones & Goulding

Long before the outbreak of World War II, residents of Savannah, Georgia, dreamed of an arterial roadway that would connect the historic downtown area on the Savannah River with the developing neighborhoods and commercial areas to the south. In addition, the roadway would serve to connect a number of major east-west arterials in Savannah. Originally called the Casey Canal Parkway for the canal that the northern portion of the route would parallel, the name eventually was changed to the Harry S. Truman Parkway in the early 1970s to honor the former President, who died in 1972. At one time, the City of Savannah was considering making the parkway a toll road because no other source of financing was available. Eventually, the project entered the Georgia Department of Transportation's work program, and in the mid-1980s design work began on Phases I and II, from Derenne Avenue north to President Street. The original design concept was for a four-lane at-grade arterial highway, but local residents protested vigorously at the public hearing ("Atlanta has freeways, we want freeways!"). The project was redesigned as a grade-separated freeway. Phases I and II were completed and carrying traffic by the mid-1990s. About that time, the firm of Jordan, Jones & Goulding was awarded the design contract for Phases III, IV, and V.

As it turned out, designing Phases I and II was child's play compared to the three southernmost segments, which offered a veritable smorgasbord of challenges for the design engineers. The Phase III/IV alignments had to skirt a public golf course, required the relocation of a lead-contaminated landfill, thread around a large softball complex, avoid a major regional hospital, consider environmental justice issues, mitigate the displacement of a number of high-quality wetlands, and avoid impacting a number of residential developments that had sprung up along the projected route.

One of the toughest challenges was routing the proposed parkway adjacent to the Bacon Park Golf Course, a popular 27-hole public course. Alignments that would entirely avoid the course had impacts to Section 4(f) properties and community facilities. The selected alignment required the relocation of one fairway and the reconstruction of a driving range. A long, high screen along the parkway will prevent drivers from being bonked by errant shots!

The landfill, an old long-closed municipal dumping ground, was unavoidable because of the presence of parks and minority neighborhoods in the corridor. Evaluations of subsurface conditions revealed the presence of significant lead contamination. After assessing a number of engineering alternatives for crossing the landfill, it was decided to relocate the entire landfill to a new lined facility.

Design engineers had to be particularly adroit in setting the alignment to thread between a large softball complex at Paulson Park, the Lake Mayer Recreation Area, and a major regional hospital. Environmentally, the public softball fields and the lake were more sacred than the hospital, so a couple of the hospital service buildings had to be relocated. No patient areas were disturbed.

All alternate alignments unavoidably impacted wetland areas. The preferred alignment affected 10 jurisdictional wetlands and three jurisdictional waters. Mitigation sites, both adjacent to the project and offsite, were located and designed to meet the permitting requirements.

Environmental justice issues also influenced the alignment of the parkway, with the minority community of Sandfly being located in the corridor. Also, two proposed alternate alignments were rejected because of adverse impacts to historic homes in the area.

As if the designers did not have enough challenges, a bald eagle nest with two adult eagles was found in the vicinity of the proposed alignment. New alternates had to be developed to reduce any potential impacts to the nesting eagles. The designers had to follow procedures outlined in the Endangered Species Act to resolve this issue.

Phase V (the southernmost segment) of the Harry S. Truman Parkway is in final design at this time. The chief problems in this phase are not man-made obstacles, but an extensive saltwater marsh and the navigable Vernon River, which required both a Coast Guard permit and a COE 404 permit. Special attention also was given to the Vernonburg Historic District. The alignment was selected to avoid noise impacts to this neighborhood, and special attention was given to minimizing the visual impacts of the proposed Vernon River bridge.

When Phase V of the HST Parkway is completed, it will mark the end of a half-century of waiting by Savannah residents for a continuous north-side route all the way through their city.

Note. James Chambers was the design engineer for Phases I and II while employed by the Georgia DOT. Now retired from GDOT, he is an engineering manager at Jordan, Jones & Goulding (JJG). Greg Ramsey is a design group manager at JJG and is the lead engineer for Phases III, IV, and V.

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