Originally created 02/11/01

Deadly crossing will get four-way stop



The community wanted a stop light, but Rep. Bill Jackson said he is satisfied with the Georgia Department of Transportation's plan to install a four-way stop at the Pumpkin Center intersection where a Harlem teen was killed recently.

"That's the best we could get, and it's good at this time," Mr. Jackson said.

The intersection at the Appling-Harlem Highway (U.S. Highway 221) and Wrightsboro Road, the area known as Pumpkin Center, was the site of a three-car collision Dec. 12 that fatally injured Melissa Dawn Swett, 16, a junior at Harlem High School.

Her death prompted a petition drive and a letter campaign from community members, students and county and school officials. Elected officials, such as Mr. Jackson and Columbia County School Board Chairwoman Roxanne Whitaker, pressed hard to persuade the DOT to install a light at that intersection.

"It's not what we asked for, but it's something that hopefully will help get us started in the right direction," Ms. Whitaker said. "I don't know what it takes to get a traffic light in that area. How many people have to die? But this will at least slow people down."

Roger Price, district traffic engineer in the DOT office in Tennille, Ga., said the department plans to install the four-way stop and flashers at that intersection this month. Officials will come back in 12 months to evaluate the intersection again to determine whether it meets the criteria for a stop light.

"The four-way stop was warranted," Mr. Price said. "We did an accident evaluation of 1998-2000, and based on the types of collisions that occurred and the number of collisions that occurred, we were able to recommend a four-way stop."

Mr. Price said the DOT uses a standard manual to determine whether a stop light is warranted at an intersection.

To have either a traffic signal or a four-way stop, there must be five accidents during one year of a certain type - generally involving a turn - that might be prevented by the traffic devices.

This intersection did not meet that criterion, because there were only nine accidents of that type in a three-year period.

"It was marginal as far as accident history, and it was also marginal as far as traffic history," Mr. Price said.

To justify the four-way stop, Mr. Price said the DOT used the number of cars that pass through the intersection during the peak hour - more than 700 between 7 and 8 a.m.

That doesn't rule out the possibility of a traffic light there in the near future, said Rusty Merritt, an area engineer with the Department of Transportation.

"(The four-way stop) is normally the first step on a rural intersection. In the near future we will reassess it to see how well the four-way stop is working."

To upgrade that intersection with a signal will be costly, he said. It could cost between $300,000 to $500,000, including new turn lanes. The project would be similar to ones the DOT recently completed at the intersection of Lewiston and Columbia roads and at the intersection of Evans To Locks Road and Industrial Park Drive.

"When you go in and put in a signal you've got to widen the road to accommodate a left turn lane," Mr. Merritt said. "It's not just as simple as hanging a stop and go signal and turning a switch on.

"I think the four-way stop is a good solution to the problem. It's a next step to addressing the problem as the traffic increases in an area like that. As that area out there develops we know we can expect traffic to increase, and we are going to plan for it."

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.