From Friday’s Savannah Morning News:
The Savannah Branch NAACP is backing a proposed penny sales tax for transportation that will go before voters on Tuesday.
Endorsement of the measure was announced on Thursday by Richard Shinhoster, 1st vice president of the group.
If regional voters approve it, Shinhoster noted, it will fund removal of the Interstate 16 flyover at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
He spoke to reporters as he stood on a porch on the branch office, a few blocks away from the freeway ramp.
This is interesting on many, many levels.
The state NAACP has been quite strong in its opposition to T-SPLOST.
There are a couple of distinct reasons for supporting the removal of the flyover — one is based more in urban planning issues and the other in history. Both reasons have clear appeal to black voters in the city.
The flyover is for inbound traffic only. I-16 crosses over Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and ends with four lanes (left turn, right turn, two northbound) on Montgomery Street at Liberty Street. Certainly, if drivers want the quickest route into the heart of the Historic District and want to continue north, the flyover serves its purpose. But the flyover has been terrible for lots of other traffic options and it has proved a physical barrier to revitalization of the southwest quadrant of the Historic District. It has forced key portions of Montgomery Street to be one-way northbound, which has bottled up traffic in the City Market area, and it has shut down key east-west connections that would benefit pedestrians and bicyclists in addition to drivers. The flyover also takes up a lot of land; removing it will free up something like 9 acres of government-owned land that can be sold to the private sector or devoted to other public uses.
The city of Savannah, private citizens, and various other entities have spent millions trying to revitalize the MLK-Montgomery corridor, but the results will be limited until the flyover comes down. Where will all the traffic go? Well, all the outbound traffic getting on I-16 has to travel on or across MLK already and GDOT’s long-range projections show that the level of traffic service will actually improve with the flyover’s removal.
But I don’t know if revitalization alone would be enough on their own to warrant such strong support from the Savannah chapter of the NAACP. As with so many things in Savannah, the past might be more important than the future.
The flyover is named for civil rights leader Earl T. Shinhoster, the brother of Richard Shinhoster who announced the NAACP position. It’s just really interesting that the Shinhoster family wants to see the flyover removed. Richard Shinhoster noted: ““Removal of the flyover will re-unite this street, once recognized as the hub of the African-American business, professional and spiritual community in Savannah.”
West Broad Street was the first paved street in Savannah, was home to the grand train station, and was the focal point for Savannah’s black life and culture for many decades. The creation of the flyover decimated traditional working class neighborhoods just to the west, like Frogtown and Currietown. Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson grew up in Currietown and still speaks routinely of “West Broad Street” instead of “MLK” — she did so quite pointedly just this Friday at the opening of the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum’s fabulous new North Garden. Council member Mary Osborne was on hand for that event on Friday too; she attended elementary school in the historic building that now holds the Ships of the Sea.
Of course, the I-16 flyover removal would get only $22 million of the projected $1.6 billion raised if the tax is approved in the 10-county coastal region. But its inclusion in the final project list was touted as a way to attract urban votes — and that prediction appears to have been right.
It’s worth noting, however, that the money will likely be found even without the approval of T-SPLOST, given the relatively low cost compared to other transportation projects, the strong political backing from City Hall, and the extensive public process already conducted by the Metropolitan Planning Commission.
I don’t know how much political pull the NAACP has these days, but I’m estimating that the regional T-SPLOST would need at least 60 percent of the vote — maybe closer to 70 percent — in Chatham County to have any chance of passing. Clearly, the passionate feelings about this one project will help drive turnout in the black community, although it’s hard to say to what extent.