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Richmond, Columbia counties rank high for Interstate 20 wrecks

Posted: August 11, 2015 - 11:14pm  |  Updated: August 11, 2015 - 11:36pm
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Richmond County ranked fourth and Columbia County sixth in interstate wrecks in an analysis of 14 counties between Atlanta and Columbia.
Richmond County ranked fourth and Columbia County sixth in interstate wrecks in an analysis of 14 counties between Atlanta and Columbia.

In an analysis of 14 counties be­tween Atlanta and Columbia on Interstate 20, Richmond and Co­lumbia counties scored in the top six for the greatest number of wrecks per mile.

In 2013 and 2014, the two counties saw a total of 629 wrecks, including 262 injuries and five fatalities, in their 23 miles of interstate, according to data obtained from the Georgia Department of Transportation. Richmond County was fourth on the list and Columbia County was sixth.

Police said wrecks typically occur more frequently in large cities, such as Atlanta and Columbia, which scored first and second, respectively.

Even though Richmond County has a lower speed limit than surrounding counties, Lt. Ramone Lam­kin said he suspects the increase in wrecks per mile might have something to do with the number of lanes. Both Aiken and Columbia counties have two lanes in each direction, while Richmond County has three.

“It introduces more variables and more chances for a wreck,” Lamkin said.

Police have also noticed that when drivers see more lanes, they consciously or unconsciously speed up. It’s an issue Richmond County has noticed since the Bobby Jones Expressway expansion project was completed.

Richmond County officers were not able to identify one area in the six miles of interstate as being more troublesome than others, but Columbia County officials pointed to one exit that has frequent delays, causing drivers to pull their vehicles off the road or block one lane of interstate.

“I think if you plot them they would be scattered,” said Capt. Steve Morris. “If I had to name one trouble spot it would be there at the Gateway (Grovetown exit).”

According to data obtained by the Georgia DOT, following too closely topped the list as the contributing factor for interstate wrecks, followed by improper lane change. South Carolina Department of Transportation was not able to provide a list of contributing factors.

Following too closely is one of the issues police are seeing at the Grovetown exit, Morris said. It’s also cited as the reason for the fatal tractor-trailer accident near the Bobby Jones exit in Richmond County last month.

Police said Michael Hacker, 53, of Goose Creek, S.C., died July 1 when he crashed his tractor trailer into another tractor trailer and then a concrete barrier after coming up on traffic slowed by DOT work. The truck burst into flames, killing Hacker.

“When you’re riding down the interstate you’re really not expecting people to be slowing down,” said Georgia State Patrol Trooper Jake Thompson.

Inattention, sleepiness, distraction by electronic devices and “rubber-necking” all contribute to drivers frequently running into stopped or slowed traffic.

Since the interstate fatality last month, local police have begun to look at options to get traffic back moving quickly after a wreck to prevent secondary accidents.

Lamkin said the Rich­mond County Sheriff’s Office has already started speaking with other first-responders about creating a Time Task Force, an idea borrowed from Atlanta, that will be able to respond to crash sites and get traffic moving or redirected as quickly as possible.

To cut down on the severity of wrecks, the Georgia DOT continues to install cable barrier systems that prevent crossover accidents. The 2016 budget has $4 million specifically for the barriers, which will be installed on six interstate systems, including areas of Greene and Morgan counties on Interstate 20.

Kyle Collins, the District Two communications officer for Georgia DOT, said studies comparing three years of crash data before and after cable installation show a 50 percent decrease in crashes and a 60 percent reduction in severity of crashes.

“That wire helps tremendously,” Lamkin said. “It makes the crash stop at the wire.”

After the installation, Walton and Newton counties will be the only area in Georgia without cable or concrete barriers.

South Carolina Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Judd Jones said the majority of the area from Aiken to Richland counties has some sort of barrier, whether it be treess, cables or concrete barriers.

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