‘Is someone going to have to die…’

Tia Lynn Ivey News

“Is someone going to have to die out there before we can get a traffic light?” asked one man at Thursday morning’s forum on the Bethany Road Intersection at the Madison Bypass.  Despite the lengthy meeting on the issue, the question was not answered.  However, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) did refuse another round of local requests for a traffic light at the intersection of the Madison by-pass and Bethany Road.

Representatives from the GDOT, the governing body with the sole authority to approve a traffic light, joined officials from Morgan County, The city of Madison, local law enforcement agents, and local business and religious leaders to discuss what has been deemed “the most dangerous intersection in all of Morgan County.”

In a show of rare unanimity, all the local representatives presented a united front in their quest for a traffic light to prevent severe accidents at the Bethany Road Intersection.

“We want to be proactive rather than wait for a tragedy to happen out there,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman at the opening of the forum.

Participants hoped that coming major developments near the intersection, which  should increase daily traffic flow, would put Bethany Road over the threshold to warrant a traffic light.  Leaders cited the following projects to stress the dramatic shift in traffic coming to the bypass: the large-scale senior community campus, the new hospital, the new consolidated school campus that features a new cut-through to the bypass, a newly proposed daycare center for up to 300 children out of Redeemer Church of Madison, as well as Redeemer’s ever-growing congregation, and several other coming commercial business along the bypass.

“The dynamic has changed radically since the last traffic study. It’s a completely different world out there” said John Darsey, pastor of Redeemer Church of Madison, who noted the church currently shells out $20,000 a year just to control the Bethany Road Intersection before and after church services.

“We are doing our best on our end to band-aid this problem,” said Carl Sims, head of security for Redeemer Church. “I don’t want to be melodramatic, but if we pull back that traffic control someone will die…It is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

“We have had accidents happen there with officers out there directing traffic.”

This wasn’t the first attempt by local leaders and elected officials to convince GDOT of the need for a traffic light for Bethany Road, and it looks as though it will not be the last. For years, local leaders, as well as members of the public, have lobbied for a traffic light at the Bethany Road Intersection. But the petitions and requests have fallen on deaf ears. Even in light of the new developments coming to the area, GDOT officials were not persuaded this time either and remained resolute in their determination that the intersection did not yet warrant a traffic light, and insisted on moving forward with installing an R-Cut instead, much to the dismay of the local leaders at the forum.

According to Kendrick Collins, the district traffic manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), since the most recent traffic study in 2016 for the Bethany Road Intersection, the intersection did not come close to meeting GDOT’s criteria for approving a traffic light.

“You are not even halfway there,” said Collins when pressed for exact numbers.

GDOT representatives were fuzzy on what exactly it would take for that intersection to meet the criteria.

“We don’t have all the numbers with us, but we have nine criteria for a traffic light, and our last traffic study showed the warrants are just not there yet,” said Collins.

Collins did not directly address whether or not actual deaths at an intersection played a part in the decision process for a traffic light, but did concede that “the severity” of accidents at an intersection was a definite factor, as well as the rate of traffic flow.

Corbett Reynolds, district engineer for GDOT, assured the decision was not driven by cost, maintaining the installation of a traffic light is roughly the same as installing an R-CUT, which is a Restricted Crossing U-Turn, an intersection design that restricts left turns at an intersection, but allows the same movement downstream via a U-turn.  Motorists would drive past the intersection and merge left to a turning lane with an open cut-through in order to make a U-turn on the bypass. Motorists would no longer have to look left and right when crossing, only to the right to make sure there is no oncoming traffic before turning left onto the bypass.  According to GDOT, the cost of an R-CUT is $200,000, about the same as a traffic light.

“We’ve had great success with the R-Cut. They are very popular,” said Reynolds. “It’s not a perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction. If there is a better solution than the R-Cut, I don’t know what it would be… We have made a conscious decision to move forward with the R-Cut.” Reynolds also argued that putting a traffic light at an intersection that doesn’t meet GDOT criteria could make the intersection even more dangerous.

“Traffic lights don’t always stop accidents, sometimes they can make them worse,” said Reynolds.

Local leaders were underwhelmed with GDOT’s solution. Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn expressed fears that an R-Cut was not only insufficient, but could potentially make things more dangerous for drivers.

“It’s a blind intersection and a blind hill,” said Ashburn, who argued a traffic light would better eliminate error in driver judgment when crossing or turning at the intersection. “I think this R-Cut could make things even worse out there.”

County Manager Adam Mestres argued that the R-Cut is harder for the types of drivers that would most likely frequent the area.

“There are going to be distracted drivers out there. You will have a lot of elderly drivers because of the new senior community, teenagers from the high school, families with small children in the car coming from the church and daycare, and emergency vehicles headed to the new hospital” said Mestres. “I really think we shouldn’t just be considering how many drivers but the type of drivers we are going to have out there.”

However, GDOT officials were hesitant to entertain future traffic flow possibilities due to developments not yet completed. But Reynolds interest was piqued by the current traffic situation at Redeemer Church and wanted to see more information about it, as well as traffic studies for the new proposed developments coming to or near the bypass. However, Reynolds was clear that GDOT would still move forward with the R-Cut as a “temporary solution” as they work to secure funding for the project. Reynolds estimated that construction on the R-Cut could begin in early 2019, if their proposal is approved by the state commission.

“We have never been against a traffic light, and if that intersection one day meets the warrants for one, we would support it,” said Reynolds.

Mayor Perriman requested another meeting in six month to review new traffic studies and the affect of new developments at the bypass to revisit the issue again.

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