school zone

BPD Officer Charlie Wichman and Police Chief Chris Wright observe after-school traffic on Hwy. 84.

Local officials met with DOT top administrators last week

Has the solution for school-related traffic problems been right in front of us all along? Is Pierce County one step closer to a traffic light at Hwy. 84 and County Farm Road?

The answer to both those questions could be yes after a sit-down between local officials and the Department of Transportation last week.

No plans have yet gotten final approval but The Times has learned a traffic light could be posted at the busy intersection in coming months.

That might not be the long-term solution, however.

Local officials will neither confirm, nor deny, but reports indicate the DOT may eventually opt out of a traffic light in favor of a massive roundabout at the Highway 84/County Farm Road intersection.

City, county and school board officials met with Georgia Department of Transportation’s top administrators last Wednesday in Atlanta to discuss options for the troublesome roadway where veteran Blackshear firefighter Johnnie Anderson was struck while directing school traffic two weeks ago.

Local officials have requested a traffic light at the intersection before  — a request DOT has previously denied because traffic flow throughout the day doesn’t meet the criteria for a light  — but Mayor Kevin Grissom says DOT administrators came to last week’s meeting with several potential solutions and plan to reveal a more detailed plan of action following the completion of DOT studies of the intersection in a couple of weeks.

Mayor Grissom and other officials have offered few details on what eventual plans will be.

“They shared some very promising solutions … It was a very, very productive meeting,” Grissom says. “We won’t know the options until studies are completed in two weeks.”

County Manager Jason Rubenbauer agrees.

“The meeting was very productive and positive. We showed a unified effort and received a strong commitment from GDOT to help find effective short and long term options to help resolve the area of concern,” Rubenbauer says.

Two options reportedly under DOT consideration for the intersection are:

Construction of a light directing traffic on County Farm Road and Hwy. 84’s westbound lanes only. The light could potentially operate as a caution light during most of the day and then be switched to a traffic light during peak school traffic times. The light might also operate similarly to the light at State Street and Hwy. 84 in Waycross where one outside lane has a green arrow consistently, even as the  inside lane is stopped by the traffic light.

The second option is considered more radical — and more costly.

A roundabout similar to the ones in place now on County Farm Road at the new Pierce County High School is another possible solution. A roundabout would be a more long term fix to the problem, but engineering, design and construction costs would supposedly be much higher than for the installation of a light.

These options are subject to change, however, as DOT conducts its safety study over the next couple of weeks.

County Commission Chairman Neal Bennett, Rubenbauer, Police Chief Chris Wright, Blackshear Fire Chief Bucky Goble, School Supt. Dr. Kevin Smith and Assistant Superintendent Levance Gay also attended the meeting in Atlanta. Local officials met with DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and State Representative Stephen Meeks for nearly two hours.

Other DOT administrators in attendance included Kelvin Mullins, grants administrator, Kenneth Franks, TIA (transportation investment act) administrator, Meg Pirkle, chief engineer, and Ann Purcell, chair of the State Transportation Board. Purcell set up last week’s meeting.

Local officials are to receive a report from DOT with their  recommendation Monday, May 6.

Construction for safety improvements at Hwy. 84 and County Farm Road —  regardless of what option officials choose — might not begin for several months.