Originally created 11/09/99

I-20 safety priority



Area residents, especially those who must regularly contend with the jumbled, dangerous Interstate 20-Bobby Jones Expressway interchange, should be heartened to learn that Georgia roadbuilders are studying ways to make it safer. This study is long overdue, and its implementation should move right to the top of the state Department of Transportation's priorities for Augusta.

We just hope it doesn't take as long as construction of the Savannah-to-Augusta freeway is taking. The delay on that project is an inconvenience and a crimp on economic development, but delay on making the interchange safer would cost lives and property.

The heavily traveled, cloverleaf-designed interchange regularly makes Richmond County's list of most dangerous intersections -- 260 crashes and 56 injuries on the ramps and merge lanes between 1994-98. Last year's 66 crashes earned the interchange the fourth most dangerous designation in the country.

"You've got terrible volume and a bad weaving situation there," says Richmond County traffic engineer Dennis Ellis. "It doesn't matter which direction you're going, the problem is the same."

The proposal the DOT is looking at would eliminate the cloverleaf's northwest loops and replace them with overpass bridges like those at Atlanta's "Spaghetti Junction." Overpasses reduce accidents by providing more room to merge. This would be a great safety improvement.

Also encouraging is that 80 percent or more of the project's $64 million cost would come from the federal government. If the plan stays on schedule, the renovations should be completed by 2002.

But again, we remind residents to keep the heat on lawmakers and incoming DOT Commissioner Tom Coleman to ensure the deadline is met -- and not delayed as other Augusta projects have been.