Originally created 05/11/00

Engineers suggest solutions



John Kenner lost his left leg in a cotton gin more than 50 years ago, but the 70-year-old doesn't let that slow him down.

With crutches, he maneuvers the sidewalks of 15th Street about twice weekly for regular trips to the pharmacy and the grocery store from his home on Walton Way.

"I'm goin' on. I'm goin' on," he said Wednesday afternoon, after crossing five lanes of traffic on Walton Way at 15th Street.

Traffic engineers have identified the same intersection as one of the city's most hazardous, reporting 40 traffic accidents there in 1998.

Vehicle congestion paired with pedestrians such as Mr. Kenner prompted hospital officials and city planners in June to initiate a safety improvement study for the medical complex area.

And after a year of interviewing hospital officials and businesses in and around the University Hospital medical complex, traffic engineers Wednesday made public their proposed changes to the area between 15th and Broad streets and RA Dent and Laney-Walker boulevards.

The medical complex area, composed of University Hospital, Medical College of Georgia and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, already had been identified by the city as needing significant improvements to handle increasing traffic. The project was so large that the city hired an Atlanta engineering consulting firm to conduct a yearlong study of the area.

Federal, state and local money was used to fund the $67,000 study, conducted by Day Wilburn Associates.

The drafts of proposed changes were displayed around University Hospital's auditorium Wednesday evening and showed nearly 100 potential projects.

Some of the most significant proposed changes include:

Extending St. Sebastian Way to Greene Street to divert traffic away from 15th and 13th streets, adding turn lanes for offices along the street.

Widening the lanes on the Butt Memorial Bridge and adding additional warning signals to reduce accidents at the Calhoun Expressway intersection.

Adding left-turn lanes at the entrance to University Hospital and to various side streets within the complex.

Closing about four median breaks along Walton Way to reduce congestion.

Providing bicycle parking and paths.

Adding crosswalks and pedestrian signals along heavily traveled corridors.

Pedestrian travel was a major focus of the study, the engineers who conducted the study said.

"There's a lot of short walking between buildings in the area," said Richard Gangmann, a transportation engineer with Day Wilburn Associates. "It's a big mix that does add to the congestion. It's not a unique problem, but it's unique to Augusta."

Only a handful of people turned out for the meeting, but the maps will be on display for the next 10 days at the Metropolitan Planning Organization office at 525 Telfair St. Public comment is welcomed, and all suggestions will be considered by a steering committee before any drafts are approved, city officials said.

Pedestrian crossings and new road signs likely will be completed first, while major road construction, such as new roads and traffic signals, could take more than 10 years to begin, depending on fund availability from city and state sources.

Medical center pedestrians say the sooner the better.

"Some people stop, and some people don't, but it's real bad out here," said Willie Pat Evans, 85, who navigated her way across 15th Street's seven lanes of traffic Wednesday on her way to a doctor's appointment. "You can stand out there for an hour and not get across."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.