The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, also known as SHEP, is currently underway, with the aim of accommodating the larger container vessels expected to arrive after the expansion of the Panama Canal.
In spite of some stumbling blocks over funding and necessary environmental precautions, SHEP has been a highly anticipated project, backed by bipartisan support and expected to create as many as 370,000 new jobs. Deeper clearance for larger, more heavily-laden ships will also lower shipping costs for business of all sizes, while generally keeping the Port of Savannah a bustling hub of global commerce.
Unfortunately, a robust shipping economy already takes a toll on state-wide road safety, which is likely to worsen when the expansion is complete.
Lapses in Judgment Cost More Lives Around Tractor-Trailers
Georgia’s status as the fourth most dangerous state for traffic accidents is often attributed to heavy big rig traffic from the Port of Savannah. While the problem is more complicated than that, big rig accidents absolutely do happen in relation to the port, and sometimes at the port itself.
Because of the sheer mass of these vehicles, many lives can be lost or irrevocably altered at once, due to a single driver error.
In 2015, a truck driver with Total Transportation of Mississippi was sentenced to five years in prison for killing five nursing students and seriously injuring two others in a pileup on the I-16 near Savannah. When asked in court why he didn’t stop when he saw traffic stop in front of him, he stated that he didn’t know. He admitted to texting while driving earlier in the day, but denied doing so in the moments leading up to the accident.
Less than a month later, another truck driver killed another five people, also on the I-16 and just 20 miles west of the previous wreck, after weaving in and out of lanes. Falling asleep at the wheel was ruled to be the cause, though the driver reported getting a full night of sleep and could similarly not account for his failure to brake.
Will Road Infrastructure Keep Up with the Port Expansion?
Given the frequency of other kinds of traffic accidents in Georgia, underlying road conditions may well be a contributing factor in tragedies like these. Even if the trucks, their drivers, and their companies are not solely at fault, however, the involvement of tractor-trailers compounds the lethality of accidents that might not be so devastating among smaller vehicles.
Expansions to the I-16 and adjacent freeways have been announced to handle the increased port traffic, but they’re not set to begin construction until 2019, which was the original completion estimate for SHEP itself.
Given typical delays, we can expect the impending influx of tractor-trailers to hit roads that haven’t yet been expanded. Not only that, but the roads will be in the middle of heavy construction, disrupted and full of vulnerable workers.
Be sure to take extra care on the freeways in the years to come, and if you’ve already been injured on Savannah’s hazardous roads, feel free to reach out to the Stoddard Firm for a free consultation.