New HOV signs at Northside Drive

After a yearlong investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board last year found that the bus driver, guided by Georgia’s inadequate highway signs, mistook the HOV exit for the HOV through lane. The Atlanta bus crash led to a federal effort to clarify guidelines for HOV left-hand exit signs nationwide.

State Department of Transportation representatives could not say over the weekend when the new Northside Drive HOV exit signs were installed. But a truck carrying the new type of exit signs for HOV left-hand exits could be seen at another I-75 exit location this weekend.

In the crash, a charter bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team on I-75 exited the HOV through lane but climbed the exit ramp at highway speed. When the bus reached Northside Drive above, it crashed into the concrete barrier wall opposite, jumped the bridge and fell back onto I-75 below. Five baseball players, the bus driver and his wife were killed. On the way up the ramp, the driver passed stop-ahead and stop signs.

An AJC investigation following the bus crash found that the Northside Drive exit was originally designed to include an overhead sign pointing out the HOV through lane, the lane that in 2007 the Bluffton bus would apparently try and fail to follow. But because of a mistake in DOT’s sign plans, engineers decided to leave that sign off the exit. They installed it instead at another location, where there is no exit.

Experts say drivers expect highway exits to be on the right, so when a lane breaks away on the left, sign designers must give extra care to warning drivers that it’s an exit rather than a through lane.

NTSB investigators noted that after the HOV system went up in the 1990s, people started getting killed in crashes at Northside Drive. Georgia DOT engineers steadfastly defended the old signs but requested federal guidance. That resulted in the national changes, and Georgia’s new signs.

DOT has made other changes at the exit over the past two years to smaller signs and markings on the pavement.

Georgia settled with the victims and their families this year, paying them a total of $3 million, the legal maximum for one incident.

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