Living dangerously: Wrecks plague Mike Padgett residents

Constant wrecks plague Mike Padgett residents

Reba Goldman turns on her blinker and pumps her brakes about a quarter-mile before turning into her neighborhood off Mike Padgett Highway.

 

But even that's not always enough to keep other motorists from zooming up on her bumper. Occasionally, she'll have to punch the gas and speed up, then double back a half-mile away at Goshen Road.

Her neighbors share similar stories.

"I feel like I look more in my rear view mirror than I do forward," said Vickie Herron.

The four-lane highway, Georgia Highway 56, has long been known as dangerous and deadly. It's been 16 years since the highway hasn't recorded a fatal wreck. There have been at least two deaths on Mike Padgett Highway every year since 1996 and seven in 2008.

The highway's first fatal wreck of 2011 happened last week, when three people in one car were killed after the driver pulled out in front of a log truck, police said.

Folks who live on Mike Padgett can remember fatal wrecks stretching back almost 40 years. But the rush of traffic wasn't nearly as dense back then, said Eunice Hogland, who would send her son across the highway to get the mail 38 years ago.

Today, she says a prayer before leaving her driveway, then a word of thanks when she gets home safely. Hogland still worries, though, about her grown children traveling to visit her with the grandchildren.

Like others interviewed, Hogland said the center turn lane that peters out at Old Waynesboro Road should be extended. The problem is that distracted and speeding drivers don't prepare to stop for someone waiting to make a turn from an inside lane, Hogland said.

Kristina Honomichl, a manager at Plant Vogtle, can attest to that.

She's one of the hundreds of commuters who travel Georgia 56 to work at the plant near Waynesboro. Honomichl admits she was distracted when she plowed into the back of a work van and crumpled the hood of her Honda Accord.

"I just lost focus. I wasn't there," she said.

Both Honomichl and the van's driver walked away from the wreck, but it was a stark reminder for Honomichl about the importance of being a vigilant driver. When she read about last week's fatal wreck in The Augusta Chronicle , she created a short safety message that flashed on giant TVs around the plant.

"I thought 'Whoa, we need to bring attention to this,' " Honomichl said.

Besides Plant Vogtle, commuter traffic from Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and International Paper jams the highway at peak hours. Gene Silvery, the president of the union at International Paper, said safety is definitely a concern.

"That's probably the worst highway in Georgia," he said.

Some employees come to work as early as 5:30 a.m. and leave early to avoid the crush of traffic, Silvery said.

Goldman said several houses for sale in her neighborhood have gone into foreclosure, presumably because no one wanted to drive home on Mike Padgett.

Realtor Brenda Everett couldn't speak about Goldman's neighborhood directly, but acknowledged it's tough selling property on Georgia 56.

"There's almost a stigma associated with that corridor now, and we want to overcome that," Everett said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation announced in February it was starting a $21 million project to add a raised median to the highway, along with dedicated turning lanes. The lanes would be placed at the crossroads along a 5-mile stretch of Mike Padgett and will include Brown, Goshen and Country Place roads, along with Doug Barnard Parkway.

Residents are skeptical, saying they've heard promises of improvements for years. They add that improved road conditions won't make a difference if law enforcement doesn't step up its enforcement in the area.

Richmond County sheriff's Capt. Scott Gay said his agency gets the same complaints, but that there is active enforcement of speeders. Mike Padgett is a long road, he said, so it's likely that residents just aren't seeing deputies on patrol.

He also points out that speeding wasn't a contributing factor in recent accidents.

Despite official promises for change and enforcement, Mike Padgett residents are pessimistic after years of witnessing horrific wrecks.

"The deaths are just going to continue," Herron said.

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Mike Padgett Highway project aims for safer road