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Highway 515 intersections dangerous, safety measures needed

Last week we reported a dangerous crash involving a charter bus full of Dekalb County students near the RaceTrac on Highway 515. The driver of the car that turned left in front of the bus suffered serious injuries, and the bus driver and a student were also transported to the hospital. Several other students reported a lesser degree of injuries.

Jasper’s police chief told us there is an “optical illusion” effect at that intersection that makes it difficult to see if a car is in the turning lane or regular lane, and that it’s also hard to determine a vehicle’s speed. This intersection is one of many like it on Highway 515, a four-lane divided highway with few traffic lights.

Taking a left to enter the fast-moving traffic there is always hard – getting to the median and judging oncoming traffic – but God forbid you need to cross all four lanes to the other side. It feels like you’re the frog in Frogger trying not to get splatted by traffic.                  

We remember a former Georgia State Patrol commander telling us he would opt to turn right on the highway, then turn around down the road rather than try to shoot across because the intersections are so risky.

These dangerous intersections have got to be improved somehow by our Ga. Department of Transportation – starting with the busiest ones first – and fast. The highway is a thoroughfare for people traveling north to Gilmer or Blue Ridge for vacation, but it’s home for us. Pickens County residents are forced to navigate treacherous intersections on a road that is a prime route to other places. Go look at that Friday afternoon traffic heading north and Sunday afternoon traffic returning south to realize that it is the state’s responsibility to make this road safe for people who must cross it for mundane tasks like going to the store or getting home from work.

The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reports that of traffic fatalities in Pickens County between 2019 and 2021, over half were on Highway 515. A look at the number of crashes indicates an increase in traffic volume here over the years. Georgia GOHS reports that in 2013 there were 649 crashes in Pickens County; In 2021 there were 953.

We’re not traffic experts, but we think a red light is warranted at the RaceTrac intersection because of the high volume of traffic with several retail businesses there. Some intersections have had large residential subdivisions put in, like Worley Crossroads and Mountain Boulevard where Grandview at Gateway is located that need safety improvements. Imagine having to turn left every morning to commute south to work.

GDOT did make improvements to the Antioch Church Road intersection several years ago by adding an “RCUT,” which forces people to make a U-turn to access Antioch. GDOT made the project a top priority after the intersection was identified as having the fifth-highest collision rate in the county. Public opinion was not in favor of the new intersection, with people arguing it would kill downtown Talking Rock business. That hasn’t happened – but the RCUT has been successful and lowering the crashes there. Though duly noted,  any time you have people entering/crossing any road where traffic is flying there remains a true risk.

GDOT is rightly looking at the intersection at RaceTrac, but more needs to be done. We want to see the state agency take action and make improvements on Highway 515 intersections for all drivers, especially those of us in Pickens County who must cross them daily to leave our houses.

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