By Tia Lynn Ivey, Managing Editor
The Bethany Road Intersection on Madison Highway 441 will no longer allow a crossover option, and only allow a right turn onto the bypass.
According to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), “Bethany Road at U.S. 441 median crossover will close Monday, Jan. 13.
“When Pittman Construction’s work begins at Bethany Road, traffic will be in the final Reduced Conflict U-Turn (RCUT) configuration meaning right out only onto the Bypass. Drivers will have to use the two median cuts downstream to U-turn if they want to get back to the other side of Bethany,” said a press release from GDOT, which awarded the project to Pittman Construction for $232,177.80. “The Bypass median, when complete, will have a concrete island installed to allow left turns for those traveling on 441 to get on Bethany Road. The major work should take one week with optimal weather and progress.”
GDOT has decided to press forward with an RCUT as a temporary solution to the dangerous intersection despite the unanimous local push for a traffic light. GDOT will spend nearly a quarter-million dollars to install an R-CUT near the Bethany Road Intersection, in hopes that a new turning lane system will enhance driver visibility and safety.
While the coming RCUT is meant to be a temporary fix, a traffic light still may not be the future solution. GDOT has proposed a “traffic circle” as the long-term solution.
“According to GDOT, “The modern roundabout is a type of circular intersection defined by the basic operational principle of entering traffic yielding to vehicles on the circulatory roadway. Roundabouts have geometric features providing a reduced speed environment that offers substantial safety advantages and excellent operational performance. Roundabouts shall be considered as an alternative for all intersections that are being reconstructed, including those where a traffic signal is being proposed.”
For years, city and county officials, along with local business owners, churches and citizens, have been petitioning the GDOT to install a traffic light at the Bethany Road intersection in the wake of multiple serious car wrecks. But the requests have been to no avail. The GDOT is the sole agency with the authority to approve a traffic light for the intersection, leaving local leaders’ hands tied in the matter. Despite ramped up efforts from local leaders in the past year to persuade GDOT, the organization has landed on an RCUT for now.
An R-CUT design would require drivers seeking to cross over 441 or make a left turn onto 441 from Bethany Road to first make a right turn onto the highway. Once the right turn is made, drivers would have several hundred feet to get into the left lane before approaching a turning lane and opening to make a U-Turn back on 411 in the desired direction. According to the Federal Highway Administration, an “R–CUT intersection accommodates these movements by requiring drivers to turn right onto the main road and then make a U-turn maneuver at a one-way median opening 400 to 1,000 feet after the intersection.”
GDOT’s solution is much to the chagrin of local leaders who believe an RCUT will not suffice and worry fatalities at the intersection are only a matter of time. Local leaders have become even more resolved in their quest for a traffic light due to growing fears over the intersection’s safety as more development projects take root along 441 and surrounding areas, such as the construction of a consolidated school campus, the new Morgan Medical Center, a coming large-scale senior community, and a coming daycare center out of Redeemer Church of Madison.
According to local officials, with new developments will come increased traffic flow along the bypass, leaving more motorists vulnerable to the blindsided intersection. The City of Madison and Morgan County government joined forces to pass a joint resolution asking for a traffic light last December.
“We want to be proactive rather than wait for a tragedy to happen out there,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman at forum with the GDOT last year.
“I have been pushing for several years to get something done out there,” said Morgan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Milton in a meeting this year. “I know the preference of the people in that area is for a traffic signal.”
“It’s a blind intersection and a blind hill,” said Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn last year, 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 also argued last year that the R-CUT would be 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.”
“It’s a terrible place, when you go through there you are taking your own life in your hands,” said Charles McClain, a local citizen who gathered about 1,000 signatures of registered voters demanding a traffic light for Bethany Road back in 2015.
In the past, GDOT cited insufficient traffic flow as the reason for denying requests for a traffic light at the Bethany Road intersection.
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 even come close to meeting GDOT’s criteria for approving a traffic light.
“You are not even halfway there,” said Collins last year. GDOT representatives noted the department considers nine criteria when evaluating an intersection for a traffic light.
GDOT argues that an “unwarranted traffic light” can be even more dangerous.
Kyle Collins, district communications specialist for GDOT, “Unwarranted traffic signals can lead to increased incident rates and traffic safety issues at a given location. That places the Department in a vulnerable legal position,” said Kyle Collins, district communications specialist for GDOT.