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Gridlock Guy: Analyzing a crash-filled intersection in Austell

When we fly in the WSB Skycopter, we can get from place to place quickly, so we can spread the word about traffic problems quicker than anyone else. But one thing we can miss while deploying the airborne advantage is the detail that those on the ground can provide. Such has been the case at a heavily discussed intersection in west Cobb.

» RELATED: Gridlock Guy: How we decide where the WSB Skycopter flies

Channel 2 Action News Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose tweeted a tease to his story last Wednesday evening that caught my attention. Jose said that the intersection of Austell Road at Seayes Road had seen nearly two dozen wrecks in the past year. Considering how small Seayes Road is, that number is quite large.

“Here’s the crazy part: Cobb County Police Precinct 2 is at the intersection,” Jose said in his story. He pointed out skid marks where a vehicle hit a building and narrowly missed a gas meter. I flew over a fatal crash with an overturned vehicle there on October 1st.

When I saw Jose’s tweet, I was in the Skycopter in Cobb County and decided to swing by there and try to find what could be so dangerous or crash-inducing about that intersection. From above, we saw smaller, two-lane Seayes Road with a dedicated right-turn lane from Seayes/eastbound onto Austell Road/Highway 5/southbound. Nothing looked too out of the ordinary.

This deadly rollover crash on October 1st, 2019 blocked most of Austell Road at Seayes Road in Austell.
This deadly rollover crash on October 1st, 2019 blocked most of Austell Road at Seayes Road in Austell.

Credit: Doug Turnbull, WSB Skycopter.

Credit: Doug Turnbull, WSB Skycopter.

The intersection has a traffic signal, something that is usually absent from dangerous intersections. South Cobb High School is just to the south of this, which could contribute to the amount of risky maneuvers and inexperienced drivers in the area.

Our pilot, who served for decades as a police officer, did notice a slight hill on either side of the intersection, which could decrease the reaction time for drivers on both roads. Drivers see each other a bit later than if Austell Road were flat. This could play into what locals are requesting for the intersection.

Felicia Hill-Spivey survived a crash at this crossroads earlier this year. While grateful there is a traffic light, she told Jose that drivers on Austell Road do not have a designated left-turn signal onto Seayes.

“ It’s totally red or totally green. No in between. No flashing yellow,” Hill-Spivey said, as she shared photos of her wreck. Her crash occurred as she tried to turn left from Austell/southbound onto Seayes/eastbound, Jose reported. With nothing deterring or slowing oncoming traffic cresting and rolling down a hill, this does create a recipe for nasty crashes like hers.

Jose said that Cobb DOT is going to begin doing a traffic study on the intersection; they did one three years ago also, but the study determined the intersection didn’t meet the standards for change then.

One change Cobb and the state could consider is getting cars to slow down in the area. Austell Road has two wide lanes in each direction and a divided median. This creates conditions for cars to fly by in the area easily at 50 mph. Lowering the speed limit probably wouldn't do very much. Narrowing the lanes could. Both concepts have been kicked around for City of Atlanta streets.

The county and the state are going to need to take more action at Austell and Seayes. With a high school so close and with so many wrecks taking place, there is obviously something wrong. Whether the intersection needs a left-turn signal, more signage, or even narrower lanes to decrease speeds, the status quo doesn’t seem acceptable. But decision-makers can’t be hasty either and need to do the proper study to arrive at the best solution. But they need to act. As Hill-Spivey said, “It could’ve been my life. And that’s something you can’t replace.”

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin' Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxmg.com .