When a fully-loaded lumber truck overturned on Cove Road last week scattering boards all across the asphalt and causing the road to remain closed for most of the day, no one expressed any particular surprise, for a wreck at that spot is nothing unusual.
The general sentiment was “thank goodness no one got hurt…. This time.”
Our records don’t show any recent fatalities at the Cove, as it’s commonly known. But we regularly post notices about the road being closed while emergency crews clear wrecks on the S curves.
The stretch of road causing all the motor vehicle grief is an extremely steep grade with sharp S-curves that, though well-marked, seems to surprise motorists approaching from the east.
From an aesthetic point of view, it’s quite impressive to see the road snaking through the cliff above the former marble mines after after crossing Longswamp Creek (very often called Cove Creek).
But from a traffic, motorist point of view, it’s sheer lunacy that such a steep and narrow road serves as one of two major east-west traffic arteries for Pickens County (Hwy. 53 being the main one). Cove Road is extremely well used with both Bent Tree and Big Canoe gated communities tied to Jasper by this route.
The road is also the only practical choice for many people as a daily commute. There are few options to detour off the route unless you are really familiar with the backroads of the county and none of those routes are efficient, winding well out of the way.
The traffic woes of Cove Road escalate by the lack of alternatives and the fact that it is difficult to move cars, patients and, as we saw last week, lumber, out of the way to get traffic flowing again in the S-curves.
Commissioner Billy Newton, who was lucky enough to serve as sole commissioner when multi-million dollar development deals seemed to fall out of the sky during the early 2000s, had identified doing something to address the S-curves as a top long-term project.
He had general ideas that a dam could be put across the creek at the bottom and the road straightened by running it along the top of the dam, creating water reserves and fixing the traffic issues at the same time. Nothing came of this and obviously tackling something this large is a multi-year, phenomenally expensive scheme, unlikely to draw support now that the development wave has passed.
When a rockslide occurred in April of 2011 and closed Cove Road for several days of cleanup, one county employee said the entire cliff was unstable and something major needed to be done. Several low concrete barriers were installed at the base that serve little apparent purpose but nothing substantial was ever planned.
And again when a single overturned truck was able to shut down a major thoroughfare for a full day, there were calls for action. Several people opined that the road should not be used for larger truck; while others noted that some GPS and online mapping programs direct you down Cove when approaching from Dawsonville. If we could let the Google maps/Garmin folks know that unsuspecting truck drivers such stick to Highway 53 it would be a start.
We understand that a total reconfiguration of the S-curves is such a large, expensive and complicated project that the county, city of Jasper or state can not just take some bulldozers and start grading. We fully realize that due to the very topography that creates hazard, addressing the Cove is a humongous challenge.
But surely something can be done there to improve the safety -- even if it’s not a total reworking. At the very least we would like to see the need formally acknowledged on city, county and state drawing boards.