Originally created 08/20/04

Area plans study of accident sites



Transportation officials are taking steps to fix the area's most dangerous intersections.

Members of the Augusta Regional Transportation Study group approved using $17,500 in federal and state money to begin studying one intersection a year in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties with the hope of using suggestions to improve high-risk corridors.

"What these reports do is secure funding for future projects," said Sangeetha Rao, the transportation planner for Richmond County.

Each county used to do an annual intersection analysis that listed basic statistical information on the most hazardous intersections - in Richmond County those with 20 or more accidents a year and in Aiken and Columbia counties those with 10 or more accidents or one or more fatalities a year.

The problem is it's been nearly five years since a full report has been compiled, mainly because of staff shortages.

Besides, Ms. Rao said, focusing on one particularly bad intersection is more beneficial than glossing over many.

"We thought this would be a better use of the money," she said.

The funding consists of awards from the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration designed to make federal roads safer.

It has not been determined how traffic engineers will choose the corridors, but Ms. Rao said each office will come up with criteria, taking into account accident statistics and residents' complaints, and then hire a private firm to do the study.

"There's something to be said for local knowledge," she said, explaining that traffic engineers are easily able to take all the factors into account and then make a judgment.

Paul DeCamp, the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission's planning director, said the studies will take place before the end of the program year - by June 2005.

According to 2003 data, the Richmond County intersection with the highest number of accidents was Bobby Jones Expressway at Windsor Spring Road, with 99 wrecks.

"You're supposed to take the right lane to get to Peach Orchard and the left lane to go north on Windsor Spring," said Dennis Ellis, a traffic engineering technician for Richmond County. "But people are actually going left from the right lane. There's been a bad accident problem."

Complaints about that location have prompted the Georgia DOT to add it to its list for future improvement, which means the intersection probably would not be the one selected for study, but one with similar problems could be.

Ms. Rao said it's also important to take into account the accident rate, not just the number of accidents, at an intersection.

For example, Washington Road at Bobby Jones Expressway had the highest number of collisions in Columbia County at last count, but the traffic volume there is so heavy that the number makes sense, she said. Chances are, the Columbia County intersection studied will be one whose high accident count is not solely the result of traffic volume.

Kevin Lear, Columbia County's director of construction and maintenance, suggested either the intersection of Columbia Road and North Belair Road or of North Belair Road and Washington Road would be a prime choice for study.

In Aiken County, 2002 information shows the intersection with the most reported accidents was Whiskey Road at Pine Log Road, with 23.

Stephen Strohminger, Aiken's transportation planner, said some minor improvements have been made to the corridor in the past two years as part of a road-widening project there, but he added that the intersection could be studied further.

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.

More information

Phone numbers for the area's traffic engineering departments, which review intersections and their accident totals:
Richmond County: (706) 821-1850
Columbia County: (706) 868-3420
City of North Augusta: (803) 441-4223
City of Aiken: (803) 642-7610