The petition was started after 67-year-old Curtis Douglas Baxter was killed trying to turn left onto Georgia Highway 212 from Butler Bridge Road on Feb. 25.
It was not the first accident, or even the first fatality that had happened at that intersection. According to reports from the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, there have been more than 20 accidents at that intersection since the beginning of this year, and those were the reports that did not include fatalities.
Accidents that involve fatalities are reported by the Georgia State Patrol, whose records reveal 10 accidents happened at that intersection in the period from Jan. 1, 2015 to March 30, 2016. Thirteen people were injured and one was killed.
“This is a very dangerous intersection as Georgia Highway 212 has a blind hill coming from the South and vehicles are not obeying the posted traffic speed of 45 miles per hour,” the petition at change.org reads.
“The installation of this light would curb the speeding on GA Hwy 212 and will allow our citizens who have to turn right or left off Bethany Road or Butler Bridge Road to make their turns safely,” it says. The full petition is available here.
On March 1, a resident of The Falls subdivision, Brent Morgan appeared before the Newton County Board of Commissioners to “make commissioners aware, to ask directions on making [the problem] known at the state level and for direction in requesting the traffic light at the state level.”
On the morning after the fatal accident in late February, Morgan said he was driving his kids to school and the coroner’s van and police cars were parked along the side of the road. “One of the younger girls asked me what C-O-R-O-N-E-R meant. It was uncomfortable, and it was a pivotal thing for me.
“It could have been any of us at that intersection,” he said.
A resident of The Falls for 15 years, Morgan said he had witnessed 23 accidents at the intersection. The last happened on a Sunday evening, just 10 days after the Feb. 25 fatal accident.
“At the traffic light there would reduce a lot of accidents,” he said.
Residents have complained about accidents at the Ga. 212 and Bethany/Butler Bridge roads intersection for years. The Oak Hill and Ga. 212 intersection was also a problem area, but a light was installed there in 2011 and replaced in 2014.
Two years ago, work at the intersection straightened Butler Bridge Road as it approached the intersection, widened lanes and installed turn lanes at the intersection of Ga. 212 at both Bethany/Butler Bridge Roads and at the Ga. 212 and Oak Hill Road intersection.
The original project design called for a traffic signal at the Ga. 212 and Bethany/Butler Bridge roads intersection, but that part of the project was scrapped.
“This intersection currently has a critical need for upgrades, as we've heard passionate pleas directly from the community,” said District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox. “There is currently local funding available to help match a potential state commitment. We would only need to formally dedicate the funds.”
Maddox said, “I personally brought this issue up to two of our state delegates last week. I emailed the entire delegation two weeks ago to ensure they are aware of the challenges at this particular intersection.”
Most of the commissioners have been responsive to Morgan’s March 1 request, he said. “They asked me to send the information [to them]. Four of the commissioners immediately sent out emails to all the state delegates in concern for this issue the next day.”
Newton County Chair Keith Ellis said the day after that meeting, “I asked our Department of Transportation (GDOT) in a formal request letter to take a second look at that intersection for the traffic study. We have received a request to [from GDOT] to have the sheriff’s office send us all the traffic accidents in the last three months. The sheriff’s office and Georgia State Patrol will provide that information.”
Ellis said he has spoken with a representative at GDOT and that they are aware of the problem. “The next step will be for GDOT to do a traffic study,” he said. “Decisions will be based on accident reports and the study.”
Morgan said he noticed there were two GDOT trucks at the intersection last week. “I asked the gentleman what they were looking at. They said because they arrived at 7 a.m., the morning traffic alone warrants a traffic light.”
“GDOT is very much aware of the problem and are taking steps to get the issued resolved before another tragic accident occurs,” Ellis said. The BOC had received many complaints from residents after the petition had been started. “But action had already been taken to seek a resolution.”
GDOT will install cables across the road to track the volume of traffic at the intersection.
The decision about the installation of traffic light will be made based on the study and accident reports, Ellis said. “My goal will be a traffic light, and we'll do everything we can do to reach that goal. It's not a done deal; we need to work through the process instead of talking to the legislatures. The protocol would be talk to them last.”
Morgan said there’s been progress made, but he has been told it could take up to a year to get a traffic light installed.
“I don’t think we have a year,” he said.