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City Talk: Local job market shaking off Irma’s effects

The latest employment estimates for the Savannah metro area from the Georgia Department of Labor show a significant rebound in October from the September job losses related to Hurricane Irma.

The number of payroll positions in retail trade jumped by 1,100 (5.3 percent) from September to October. We also saw solid gains in professional and business services, in education and health services and in leisure and hospitality.

The quick recovery is good news for area workers, but Irma’s effects are still likely to hurt holiday spending. Many hourly employees lost multiple shifts, and workers who rely heavily on tips were hit hard too.

Interestingly, the unemployment rate rose slightly from 3.9 percent in September to 4.1 percent in October, but the increase was caused by a significant jump in the size of the labor force. It seems likely that some area residents quit looking for jobs because of the hurricane but then returned to the job market.

The high price of convenience

In a recent City Talk column, I noted some of the problems with transportation funding in the Savannah metro area.

In the T-SPLOST referendum in 2012, voters in coastal Georgia rejected a slate of projects that was created at the local level. In the process, we ceded power to set priorities to the state bureaucracy.

We have some pressing transportation needs right now. There has been considerable attention paid lately to the problems created by train traffic on both the east and west sides of Savannah, and we don’t have any clear timeline for safer bridges on the road to Tybee.

But the Georgia Department of Transportation is spending $59.9 million to replace the drawbridges on Islands Expressway over the Wilmington River.

According to the GDOT press release, the existing bridges “require daily maintenance to open and close up to 4,000 times a year” and “cause repeated traffic delays and inconvenience for the traveling public.”

Clearly, both vehicular and river traffic will flow more smoothly once two new bridges with a 65-foot clearance are completed.

But the price works out to about $200 for every county resident, most of whom rarely travel Islands Expressway.

And the completion date is four years away – November 30, 2021. Right now we have two lanes in each direction, but the road will be reduced to one lane in each direction for up to 24 months while the new bridges are constructed.

That’s a lot inconvenience on the path to eliminating inconvenience.

If we had local control of $60 million for new infrastructure, is this the project we would prioritize?

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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