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Deans Bridge, I-520 among Augusta area's most dangerous intersections

Saturday, June 14, 2014 8:22 PM
Last updated Sunday, June 15, 2014 1:13 AM
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At Augusta’s worst intersection, orange barrels, uneven pavement and construction signs stretch a half-mile. Large mounds of gravel and stacks of concrete cylinders line the roadway. And at times, traffic is reduced to one lane, and drivers must navigate around tankers and bulldozers.

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Around the intersection of Interstate 20 and Deans Bridge Road, 313 wrecks and two deaths have been reported the past three years.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Around the intersection of Interstate 20 and Deans Bridge Road, 313 wrecks and two deaths have been reported the past three years.

Ongoing construction at Deans Bridge Road and Bobby Jones Expressway has caused so much confusion among local drivers in the past three years the interchange has become the area’s most dangerous, according to an analysis of nearly 40,000 wreck reports in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties by The Augusta Chronicle.

The review isolated crashes in and around intersections, including turning and acceleration lanes, and looked at reports from county sheriff offices, town police departments and the Georgia State Patrol. It found the Deans Bridge crossroad leads the region in traffic-related injuries, 106; is tied with Wrightsboro Road and Bobby Jones Expressway for fatalities, two; and ranks Top 5 in total crashes, 313, from 2011 to 2013.

Traffic safety officers with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office say inattentive drivers are partially to blame, but added the complex work zone at Deans Bridge Road has only raised the stakes for common mistakes made behind the wheel, such as following too closely or failing to properly yield to merging vehicles.

“We know it’s a problem at that specific intersection,” said Lt. Ramone Lamkin, the head of the sheriff’s office’s 43-deputy Traffic Safety Division. “We don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call to let local and state traffic engineers know to make the proper changes so we don’t have as many crashes.”

But records show the phone has not stopped ringing since late 2011, when the state Department of Transportation began a $32 million project to widen Bobby Jones Expressway to three lanes and remove the cloverleaf design from the Deans Bridge exit ramps. The improvements were to prevent traffic from “bottling up,” said district traffic commissioner Don Grantham.

Inclement weather, utility issues and other unforeseen conditions have caused at least three delays, and department spokesman Cissy McNure said last week the project is about 65 percent complete with yet another new completion date of Dec. 22.

Fatal mistakes

Wreck reports show a 20-year-old driver died July 1, 2012, when he ran off Deans Bridge Road into the median “negotiating a curve.” Twelve days later, another fatality occurred when a pickup truck collided head-on with a tractor trailer.

The largest number of injuries reported in a single wreck was five in January 2013. The last injury reported was on Dec. 4, a rear-end collision that road-patrol deputies call the most common crash type.

McNure said it is not uncommon for road construction projects to finish behind schedule, but this could be an extreme case.

Kathy Zahul, Georgia’s state traffic engineer, said once a hazardous intersection is identified, it can take 12 to 18 months to implement safety upgrades if the project involves federal funding and the government already owns affected property. She said if utilities need to be cleared and additional funds and land are required, the project could take three years.

“Georgia is a toward-zero-deaths state,” Zahul said. “Our goal is to eliminate fatalities.”

Funding

Zahul said while her department realizes it cannot engineer its way out of every fatality, it has partnered with the governor’s office and is now implementing a $60 million highway safety improvement program through metropolitan planning organizations to address hazards that are “systemic or systematic in nature.”

She said most projects are designed to prevent vehicles from leaving their lanes, reduce severity of the consequences if they do, improve visibility, design, and operation of an intersection, or address pedestrian safety. Fixes include installing cable barriers, adding rumble strips, enhancing the recovery area, improving signage and striping on roads or intersections, or enhancing pedestrian accommodations.

Deans Bridge construction, which is not funded through the highway safety improvement program, includes many of those measures, that many believe would help reduce the number of wrecks at the interchange.

Tailgating troubles

According to DOT statistics, intersection fatalities are typically around 25 percent of Georgia’s highway fatalities, lane-departure crashes account for more than 50 percent, and pedestrians around 10 percent.

At Deans Bridge Road and Bobby Jones, rear-end crashes account for 70 percent of all wrecks. For comparison, about 40 percent of all crashes reported in Richmond and Columbia counties from 2011 to 2013 were the result of a rear-end collision.

“The data doesn’t lie,” said Capt. Steve Morris, of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. “These crashes are easily preventable.”

Nearly half of Columbia County’s 10,954 wrecks were rear-end collisions. The likelihood of such a crash was 60 percent at the intersection of Washington and Columbia roads, where 350 wrecks were reported from 2011 to 2013, more than any crossroad in the county.

At the next-highest intersection for wrecks in Columbia County – Interstate 20 at Highway 383, or S. Belair Road – 53 percent of 324 crashes reported were the result of rear-ending.

Path to prevention

It’s unclear if any intersections in Augusta are being funded by the highway safety program, but Zahul said her department still does spot improvements.

She said recommendations for projects are typically made by the District Traffic Operations Offices after they complete engineering studies and cost analyses in response to concerns expressed by the traveling public or local officials, or above-average crash totals.

Lamkin said many drivers should brake completely and not roll forward into oncoming traffic at Deans Bridge and Bobby Jones. He acknowledged the shape and route of intersections do influence collisions, particularly when motorists merge.

Angle crashes – the most severe and potentially dangerous – accounted for 25 percent of all intersection crashes at Deans Bridge and Bobby Jones, a rate matched in both Richmond and Columbia counties.

“We can work with local and state engineers … to increase visibility at intersections where there are a high number of wrecks, but in some cases, there’s just nothing we can do,” Lamkin said. “It’s a matter of drivers not paying attention …”

“It only takes a second for a crash to happen,” he said.

TRAFFIC COLLISION TRENDS

According to an analysis of nearly 40,000 wreck reports from 2011 to 2013 in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties by The Augusta Chronicle:

• 27,283 wrecks in Columbia and Richmond counties (73 percent) occurred during daylight hours

• 30,252 wrecks (81 percent) occurred in dry weather

• 5,639 wrecks (15 percent) involve drivers 65 or older

• 32,173 wrecks (86 percent) involve drivers 31 to 64

• 23,182 wrecks (62 percent) involve drivers 30 and younger

Note: Percentages do not equal 100 because the majority of wrecks involve multiple drivers.

METRO AUGUSTA TOP 5 DANGEROUS INTERSECTIONS
  • Interstate 20 and Washington Road (Georgia Highway 28): 372 wrecks; 73 injuries; 1 fatality
  • Washington Road (Georgia Highway 104) and Columbia Road (Georgia Highway 232): 350 wrecks; 101 injuries; 0 fatalities
  • Interstate 520 and Wrightsboro Road: 339 wrecks; 79 injuries; 2 fatalities
  • Interstate 20 and South Belair Road (Georgia Highway 383): 324 wrecks; 105 injuries; 0 fatalities
  • Interstate 520 and Deans Bridge Road (Georgia Highway 4): 313 wrecks; 106 injuries; 2 fatalities

(*Source: Georgia Department of Transportation)

Comments (13) Add comment
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Just My Opinion
6251
Points
Just My Opinion 06/14/14 - 08:40 pm
5
0
Drove that way this evening,

Drove that way this evening, as a matter of fact. We were very fortunate that the traffic was fairly light and visibility was still good. I could easily see how the place could be a nightmare! A very chaotic and disjointed mess!

whyme
2109
Points
whyme 06/15/14 - 12:49 am
3
1
who's responsible?

No matter what sorts of safety precautions are installed in a given area-traffic lights, stop signs, warning notices,etc.-it is still up to the driver to make the best choice possible. Accidents occur because a driver makes the decision to go forward in a given spot, and for whatever reason, the decision doesn't work out and an incident occurs. Poor visibility is about one of the few occurrences that often cannot be changed, such as fog or being on a hill in the dark of night. Otherwise, a driver who chooses to pull out into the road in front of another vehicle, speed through a work area, fail to use lights in the evening or overcast skies, etc. cannot blame anyone or anything but himself or herself for the accident.

Young Fred
20663
Points
Young Fred 06/15/14 - 03:31 am
4
0
malfunction junction

used to be, a few years back that certain interchanges in Augusta were text book examples for engineering students on how NOT to design interchanges.

They've improved somewhat. Millions and millions were spent to design and construct our new interchanges. Big, BIG bucks were made by certain contractors who stretched out and overran the budgets to give us what we have today. For the most part it seems to work well, as it should, because we overpaid to have barely serviceable highways and byways.

DOT and regulators would not standby and give us anything less than barely serviceable.

nocnoc
49121
Points
nocnoc 06/15/14 - 07:23 am
1
0
REQUEST

Could the AC publish a link to the Traffic data so we can see how other problems area stack up?

justthefacts
24946
Points
justthefacts 06/15/14 - 07:27 am
1
1
Predictable

It never made sense having the exit ramp and the entrance ramp the same piece of road. It was bad when it was first constructed and traffic was light. As the area grew, it only got worse.

corgimom
38271
Points
corgimom 06/15/14 - 08:21 am
1
2
As my driver's ed teacher

As my driver's ed teacher taught us back in 1971, "If you speed and if you tailgate, you WILL have an accident."

Fiat_Lux
16419
Points
Fiat_Lux 06/15/14 - 12:20 pm
2
0
The biggest problems with regarding merging

is that many drivers simply refuse to allow someone else to merge into traffic ahead of them. They just won't let other cars in. They either don't move over to the left-hand lane when they could and should or they won't slow down for a merging driver when they can't move over.

And then there are the idiots who didn't do driver education and haven't a clue that they should be moving as fast as the traffic they are merging with. Just love those drivers to pieces. They're as big a danger as the jerks that won't let them merge.

Far too many drivers on the road today either never had drivers ed-- and clearly there are huge numbers of them on the roads today--or they really and truly are jerks who just don't care about other drivers.

Included in the latter group are the left lane loafers, who probably have their own little circle of hell on reserve.

whyme
2109
Points
whyme 06/15/14 - 12:53 pm
1
1
still...

I agree, there are the jerks who won't let you merge, those who want to travel over the speed limit in either lane and try to bully you out of the way, and portions of the road, like the close exit and entrance ramps, all which make driving dangerous. However, it still comes down to the driver making a judgement call. If you can't get over, you can't weasel your way into traffic to force someone to let you in;you have to be aware of your limitations and it's better to wait for however long it takes rather than take a chance and risk your life or that of someone else.Plan ahead rather than rush, know your roads, and pay attention.

corgimom
38271
Points
corgimom 06/15/14 - 01:49 pm
1
0
I laugh when people complain

I laugh when people complain about driving in Augusta, that's child's play. Come to Charlotte, where backups occur EVERY DAY, and usually several times a day; where the radio and TV report traffic delays on an hourly basis.

Come here where accidents happen right and left. Where freeways routinely have huge traffic jams because of tractor-trailer accidents. Where backups that goes for miles are common.

You will consider yourself fortunate that you live in Augusta.

stuaby
4919
Points
stuaby 06/15/14 - 04:14 pm
0
0
"many drivers simply refuse

"many drivers simply refuse to allow someone else to merge into traffic ahead of them. They just won't let other cars in. They either don't move over to the left-hand lane when they could and should or they won't slow down for a merging driver when they can't move over."

I've seen this over and over and over.

I wonder what people are thinking when they do this.

stuaby
4919
Points
stuaby 06/15/14 - 04:21 pm
0
1
Interesting that speed is not

Interesting that speed is not attributed for these problems.

I've long thought that officials are just going after the low-hanging fruit with the speed thing. Driver inattention, disengagement, unawareness, oafishness, and reckless assumption, IMO, are the biggest problems.

Of course speed will always be an exacerbating factor, but it is usually not the primary factor.

I've found that the faster I go, the more keen my attention and perception are. When I drive slowly, my focus is not nearly as sharp.

saywhatagain
418
Points
saywhatagain 06/15/14 - 04:58 pm
1
0
You can't engineer...

I go through this intersection twice a day. The problem is dumb drivers. Unfortunately, you can't "engineer" that away.

corgimom
38271
Points
corgimom 06/16/14 - 07:01 am
0
0
stuaby, that is not true for

stuaby, that is not true for most people.

And you are going to have an accident one day.

Most people have accidents within a 5-mile radius of their home, and when you get behind the wheel of a 3,000 lb lethal weapon, you need to be focused and alert at all times, no matter what speed you are driving.

I pay very close attention at slower speeds, because that's when people are turning in front of me, children are playing, people are walking along the road, bicyclists are riding a bike, people are slowing down to make a turn-that happens on roads with slower speeds, not freeways.

Maybe that's why I've been driving for 41 years and have never had an accident where I was at fault.

You have a much greater chance of having an accident on a side road than you do a freeway.

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