Hwy. 212 and Bethany Road

Could a traf­fic light be go­ing in at dan­ger­ous in­ter­sec­tion?

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAN­DRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­news.com

There may be a traf­fic light com­ing to the in­ter­sec­tion of High­way 212 and Bethany/But­ler Bridge Road in the near fu­ture.

Fol­low­ing a traf­fic study ear­lier this year, the dis­trict of­fice of Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (GDOT) has rec­om­mended that a traf­fic light is war­ranted at the in­ter­sec­tion.

“It ap­pears a traf­fic sig­nal could be go­ing in,” said Kyle Collins, Dis­trict Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Co­or­di­na­tor (East Cen­tral Re­gion) for the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

“We have col­lected all the raw data to be an­a­lyzed and are cur­rently pre­par­ing a re­port to be sent to our At­lanta head­quar­ters with our rec­om­men­da­tions,” he said. “The re­port should be com­pleted and sub­mit­ted for ap­proval of our rec­om­men­da­tions by the end of next week.”

Collins said that while GDOT’s At­lanta Head­quar­ters is the ap­prov­ing author­ity for traf­fic sig­nals, New­ton County needs to sub­mit a signed Traf­fic Sig­nal Ap­pli­ca­tion. “We are hop­ing to get that this week.”

Ev­i­dently, the county did sub­mit the Traf­fic Sig­nal Ap­pli­ca­tion. Board of Com­mis­sion­ers Chair Keith El­lis said, “The dis­trict of­fice rec­om­mended an up­grade to the in­ter­sec­tion. Now the folks in At­lanta are an­a­lyz­ing all the rec­om­men­da­tions and data.

“But we haven’t heard from the state, yet,” he said.

CON­CERN LED TO PE­TI­TION

Ear­lier this year, four res­i­dents liv­ing in the area — Melissa Griggs, who lives off Bethany Road, and Brent Morgan, Cindy Mid­dle­brook and Tony Alexan­der, all res­i­dents of The Falls sub­di­vi­sion – be­gan cam­paign­ing for a light at the in­ter­sec­tion af­ter 67-yearold Cur­tis Dou­glas Bax­ter was killed try­ing to turn left onto Ge­or­gia High­way 212 from But­ler Bridge Road on Feb. 25.

It was not the first ac­ci­dent, or even the first fa­tal­ity that had hap­pened at that in­ter­sec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports from the New­ton County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, there have been more than 20 ac­ci­dents at that in­ter­sec­tion since the be­gin­ning of this year, and those were the re­ports that did not in­clude fa­tal­i­ties.

Ac­ci­dents that in­volve fa­tal­i­ties are re­ported by the Ge­or­gia State Pa­trol, whose records re­veal 10 ac­ci­dents hap­pened at that in­ter­sec­tion in the pe­riod from Jan. 1, 2015 to March 30, 2016. Thirteen peo­ple were in­jured and one was killed.

Con­se­quently, Griggs started a pe­ti­tion in March at change.org. [See story here: http://www.cov­news.com/ar­chives/200952/].

“This is a very dan­ger­ous in­ter­sec­tion as Ga. Hwy. 212 has a blind hill com­ing from the South and ve­hi­cles are not obey­ing the posted traf­fic speed of 45 miles per hour,” the pe­ti­tion at change.org reads.

“The in­stal­la­tion of this light would curb the speed­ing on Ga. Hwy. 212 and will al­low our cit­i­zens who have to turn right or left off Bethany Road or But­ler Bridge Road to make their turns safely,” it says.

Within weeks, there were over 500 sig­na­tures on the pe­ti­tion, which was di­rected at State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dale Rut­ledge (R-Dis­trict 109), a mem­ber of the Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, and copied to El­lis.

As of this Thurs­day, there are 868 sig­na­tures.

Griggs said she has lived in her house on Bethany Road since 1999, and even then there was a need for a light. “It’s a blind hill and a blind curve.

“They come up over the hill com­ing from the Jack­son Lake area and they never slow down,” she said. “The speed limit sign is closer to the in­ter­sec­tion. The speed limit is 45 mph and they’re do­ing in ex­cess of 60. There are yield signs on the right side of the But­ler Bridge Road. I no­ticed it when I was go­ing to church and turn­ing left; Peo­ple just pull out into traf­fic.”

Morgan ap­peared be­fore the BOC meet­ing on March 1 to ask the BOC to sub­mit a re­quest for a traf­fic light at the in­ter­sec­tion to the state. Com­mis­sions John Dou­glas (Dis­trict 1) and Le­vie Mad­dox (Dis­trict 5) as well as El­lis all com­mu­ni­cated with GDOT about the need for a traf­fic light. GDOT re­sponded by or­der­ing a traf­fic study April.

Morgan said at the time he talked to the men do­ing the sur­vey and they told him they had ar­rived at 7 a.m. and the morn­ing traf­fic alone war­ranted a traf­fic light at the in­ter­sec­tion.

PE­TI­TION BROUGHT AWARE­NESS

Griggs said she thought the pe­ti­tion and the cit­i­zens’ con­tact­ing the com­mis­sion­ers had helped move the re­quest along. “I think we made a bunch of noise and peo­ple started lis­ten­ing.”

Morgan agreed. “I be­lieve through the lo­cal sup­port of our cit­i­zens, elected of­fi­cials, the Cov­ing­ton News ar­ti­cle and a Chan­nel 46 [CBS] re­port with in­ter­views have def­i­nitely helped raise aware­ness. I be­lieve that aware­ness got some­one's at­ten­tion at GDOT.”

“We of­ten re­ceive cit­i­zen pe­ti­tions to make in­ter­sec­tion im­prove­ments across our dis­trict,” said Collins. “More of­ten than not these are pe­ti­tions for a traf­fic sig­nal.

“Ge­or­gia DOT en­cour­ages public feed­back be­cause we can’t see ev­ery­thing and be ev­ery­where at all times,” he said. “Lo­cal move­ments like this can raise the pro­file of a par­tic­u­lar area and in this case re­sult in our Traf­fic Ops study­ing the in­ter­sec­tion to see what im­prove­ments could be made.”

Collins did warn that even if a pe­ti­tion gets a great num­ber of sig­na­tures, it doesn’t mean a light will be erected at an in­ter­sec­tion. “There may be other en­gi­neer­ing treat­ments that are bet­ter for op­er­a­tions and more cost ef­fi­cient.

“We still have to go through our process by con­duct­ing an ad­di­tional traf­fic study at a given site to see whether or not the in­ter­sec­tion meets the sig­nal war­rants un­der our stan­dards,” he said.

Morgan said he was told by El­lis the traf­fic light was rec­om­mended, and that Com­mis­sioner Mad­dox had stated ear­lier New­ton County had funds to as­sist with in­stal­la­tion. How­ever, GDOT pays for the in­stal­la­tion of the traf­fic light, while the county is re­spon­si­ble for the elec­tri­cal use.

“In the mean­time,” Morgan said, “school will be start­ing back, which will con­tinue the string of ac­ci­dents.”

Griggs said a traf­fic study had been done be­fore they widened the roads be­gin­ning in the spring of 2013. She said she talked to the fore­man work­ing on widen­ing the lanes on High­way 212 and he told her there were plans for in­stalling a traf­fic light, but those were scrapped.

The traf­fic study that led to the road widen­ing, Griggs said was done in July, when schools were closed and peo­ple were away on va­ca­tion or go­ing to work later in the day. “Dur­ing the school year, High­way 212 is busy, busy, busy in the morn­ing be­cause Oak Hill Ele­men­tary School is just passed the in­ter­sec­tion. Peo­ple go through the in­ter­sec­tion and turn right into the school.”

“There have been some fa­tal­i­ties there, some tragic ac­ci­dents,” said El­lis. “We’re hop­ing that [a light] will elim­i­nate fu­ture ac­ci­dents, or that ac­ci­dents won’t be as se­vere. I’m hope­ful this will elim­i­nate both the po­ten­tial for driver er­ror as well as any op­er­a­tional er­rors.”

“We should be hear­ing fi­nal word soon,” El­lis said.

Collins said the in­stal­la­tion of a traf­fic light was pend­ing on ap­proval of GDOT’s At­lanta Head­quar­ters.

“Once we get the re­sponse from our Gen­eral Of­fice lead­er­ship, we will let the lo­cals know what will be done at this in­ter­sec­tion. Any de­ci­sions will be made with safety and the most ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tions in mind,” he said. “The county will be in­formed of our rec­om­men­da­tions be­fore we sub­mit.”

They come up over the hill com­ing from the Jack­son Lake area and they never slow down. The speed limit sign is closer to the in­ter­sec­tion. The speed limit is 45 mph and they’re do­ing in ex­cess of 60 ... I no­ticed it when I was go­ing to church and turn­ing left; Peo­ple just pull out into traf­fic.” — Melissa Griggs, New­ton County res­i­dent

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