The planned raised island median will drastically change the traffic flow at the intersection of Highway 515 and Antioch Church Road in Talking Rock.
Despite vocal public opposition, construction of a raised island to change the traffic through the intersection of Antioch Church Road and Highway 515 is “not a question of if, but when,” according to Georgia Department of Transportation officials.
“It will certainly be funded,” said GDOT Communications Officer Mohamed Arafa. “This project is much needed to reduce the crash frequency and severity along the SR 515 corridor at Antioch Church Road.”
Funding for construction of the forced u-turn median (Restricted Crossing U-Turns or “RCUTs”) is scheduled for Fiscal Year 2020, but if money becomes available “GDOT may put this important project out for bidding in 2018,” Arafa said.
GDOT’s plans call for a raised island across the median that will prevent motorists from turning left to access or exit the four lane or from driving across all four lanes of Highway 515 to go straight on Antioch Church Road. Plans call for new u-turn lanes a short distance from the intersection in north and southbound lanes. Drivers will be required to pass the intersection and make a u-turn to access Antioch Church Road on the opposite side of the highway.
Estimated construction cost is close to $1 million.
Jasper Mayor John Weaver said GDOT has asked the city to check on utilities at the intersection in anticipation of the project, but he is not happy with the decision to move forward.
“I don’t like this plan at all,” Weaver said. “That intersection has lots of potential for commercial growth and they are killing it. This is going to really impact Talking Rock, and it’s not making it any safer in my opinion. Now you’ve got two dangerous spots. Drivers are going to have to get into a decel lane, make a u-turn and pull into oncoming traffic.”
Weaver proposed an alternative solution to address problems at that intersection as well as the dangerous intersection of Highway 136 and Highway 515. He suggested that motorists travelling southbound on Highway 136 who want to access Highway 515 not be allowed to use the access spur. In this scenario, drivers would take Highway 136 all the way to the Antioch Church Road intersection, then make a right onto Antioch Church Road and access Highway 515 from there.
“It’s something to look at,” Weaver said. “It would make this prime commercial area at that intersection and you wouldn’t have those big trucks crossing at 136. It’s like rabbits crossing the road.”
At the public hearing in January, Mayor Weaver also spoke in favor of a traffic signal. He said it would help create an “economic boom” for Talking Rock because motorists stopped at the light while travelling north to the mountains would see signs for antique stores and other businesses.
GDOT made the RCUT project a top priority after the intersection was identified in the 2005 Pickens County Transportation Study as having the fifth highest collision rate in the county. The intersection has had three fatal crashes in a decade - a GDOT engineer at the January hearing said it is rare to see two fatal crashes at an intersection in a 10-year period. The agency’s analysis of the last three years of crash data indicated that this intersection experiences frequent right angle-crashes that resulted in 19 injuries. Of the eight right-angle crashes, five were correctable through the installation of the RCUT intersection, Arafa said.
According to GDOT data the RCUT reduces “conflict points” – or places where two vehicles can intersect and crash - from 48 in a conventional intersection to 24.
The project got the green light just over a year after residents and business owners of Talking Rock expressed vigorous opposition at a meeting in January 2016. GDOT held a second public hearing in November, which produced equally as vocal opposition.
“This will kill this little community,” one business owner said. “It doesn’t have a lot of growth. Whoever has a business here is gonna lose it.”
Talking Rock city council responded to the public outcry by having their attorney draw up a petition residents could sign.
Many members of the public said they would like to see a red light at the intersection, but GDOT said the intersection does not have enough traffic volume to warrant a signal.
When asked how GDOT justified moving forward with the project despite such vehement public opposition, Arafa said, “Yes, some residents may not favor this type of improvements to this particular intersection, but there are more in support of it. Sound engineering and research also indicate that by rerouting minor street left-turn and through movements to a median U-turn crossover, the RCUT intersection will provide operational and safety advantages over a conventional intersection.”
Mayor Weaver disagreed that there are more people in support of the project than not.
“That’s just not true,” he said. “I haven’t heard one person at those meetings say they like the idea. This is a case where you’ve got people down in Atlanta making decisions, not local people.”