Originally created 05/07/99

Blinking light frustrates drivers



Angry drivers who received citations in the past week for running the red light at Broad and Sixth streets are screaming entrapment. But law enforcement officials say responsible drivers should know to stop at a blinking red light.

The traffic light at the intersection had been malfunctioning since last Wednesday, blinking red instead of changing to yellow and green. The light was fixed Thursday but some drivers say the city planted police officers on the corner to issue citations in an attempt to add to its coffers.

The citations will cost offenders $125 each.

On Thursday, the sheriff's department had issued 38 citations by early afternoon, said Maj. Richard Weaver, who heads the department's northern traffic division.

"They are singling out everyone they can get," said Frank Gutherie, who got a ticket Thursday on his way to the Georgia-Carolina Restaurant Supply Co. on Broad Street.

"I told the police officer that it was taking him 10 minutes to give me the ticket and in the meantime everybody was driving through the light. I said, `Wouldn't it be more useful if you were directing traffic?' The police said, `I'm just doing my job."'

It's the driver's responsibility to know the law, Maj. Weaver said, adding that there aren't officers available to direct traffic at that intersection day and night.

"There is nothing confusing about a flashing red light," he said. "That means to stop."

Public works officials said the traffic light was not broken and the malfunction caused by an out-of-order train switch that is supposed to change the signal light to stop traffic when a train approaches.

CSX is the railroad company responsible for maintaining the railroad equipment, said Jim Huffstetler, a public works engineer. The public works department had made at least 15 calls to the company about the malfunctioning switch, he said, before the company sent workers Thursday to fix it.

"Let me explain the hierarchy: Under God are the railroads. We are infringing on their railway. The railroad is so powerful you can't tell them what to do," Mr. Huffstetler said.

CSX signal department supervisor Billy Wynn, who is based in Charleston, S.C., was not in his office when attempts were made to reach him Thursday.

Public works officials don't seem confident that the problem is over.

"We'll just have to wait and see what's going to happen, now," said Mr. Huffstetler.

Clarissa J. Walker can be reached at (706) 828-3851 or cjwalker@augustachronicle.com.