Mike Padgett Highway continues to live up to its reputation as Augusta’s deadliest road.
Four of the 16 people killed in traffic accidents this year died on the road. At least two deaths have occurred on the 15-mile stretch each year since 1995.
Each of this year’s four fatal collisions happened after someone pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle. The latest two fatalities occurred this month within a week of each other.
On May 22, Barbara Ann Godbee, 54, died after the vehicle she was in pulled off Old Savannah Road in front of an oncoming truck. The driver of the car, 23-year-old Kiara Brown, has been charged with misdemeanor homicide by vehicle and failure to yield.
Four days earlier, Bonita Wallace, a 57-year-old teacher at the Augusta Youth Development Campus, died after she turned out of a private drive near the campus into the path of an oncoming truck near Marvin Griffin Road. Police said Wallace was at fault.
Traffic engineers and deputies offer numerous reasons for the number of fatalities on Mike Padgett: speed, heavy use by tractor-trailers, lack of turning lanes, too many private driveways, too few traffic lights and
heavy commuter traffic to factories.
“It’s contributing factor after contributing factor,” Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said. “It’s not just speed or tractor-trailers. It’s everything.”
He said other major thoroughfares in the county don’t compare.
Though Peach Orchard Road is just as heavily traveled, it does not have as many accidents. Peach Orchard Road does not have as many private driveways and has more traffic lights, slowing traffic down and giving drivers an opportunity to safely enter from side streets.
Gordon Highway is listed as another problematic highway for deputies, but even it pales in comparison with Mike Padgett. The number of deaths on Mike Padgett has nearly doubled those on Gordon Highway in the past five years.
Two deaths have occured on Gordon Highway this year, both the result of one crash.
Traffic engineer Dennis Ellis said he expects the problem on Mike Padgett to increase as more people flock toward Plant Vogtle to work on its expansion.
“It was really bad when they were building Plant Vogtle,” he said.
Deputies frequently conduct speed-enforcment operations on the road, but the effects are short-lived.
“It works, but it’s something you would have to do all the time,” Gay said. “We just can’t sustain that police presence.”
Deputies find most speeders are running between 65 and 85 mph.
The highway has caught the attention of the Georgia Department of Transportation, which announced plans last year to improve safety on the road.
The plan includes adding a raised concrete median in lieu of a center turn lane from Bennock Mill Road to Old Waynesboro Road.
“That is where a lot of the accidents are occurring. There’s just no refuge,” Richmond County Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell said of the area, which lacks turn lanes on and off of the highway.
Engineers believe the project will reduce side-impact crashes and collisions in that area.
Ronnie Faircloth, a pastor at New Life Baptist Church in the 3800 block of Mike Padgett Highway, said he frequently
passes the church drive to avoid being rear-ended. The area does not have a center turn lane.
“We’ve seen a lot of accidents,” he said. “A lot of people have lost their lives in our driveway.”
Faircloth said churchgoers are frequently victims or witnesses of traffic crashes. Wednesday night services are especially bad when cars enter and exit the church parking lot in clusters and mingle with the heavy traffic of factory employees making their way home.
“Every time I hear a siren, I just pray,” he said.
Faircloth and church members say they hope the DOT construction project will make their drive safer.
Construction, at a cost of $25 million, is expected to begin in 2013 and last 30 months.
Gay said engineers have expressed a desire to expedite the start date because of the number of accidents.