Rick Badie's Gwinnett: Shining a light on safety

I don’t travel the interstate much at night, so it was a surprise to learn that Gwinnett County had turned out the lights from just north of Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Ga. 316.

Thank budget cuts.

A resident who commutes from Duluth to his job in downtown Atlanta brought the matter to my attention. Having the lights out, he said, poses a safety issue.

“Something that is such a negligent hazard to public safety surely should be addressed and the community has been astonishingly silent on this matter,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Can you please address the problem in an upcoming column? With the lights off, you can see far less, which is naturally a safety issue when traveling 60-plus miles an hour,” not to mention 75 mph or 80 mph.

The reader didn’t want me to take his word on it, though, so he provided a link to a report that had been posted on the National Transportation Library website.

The article was chock-full of words like “illuminance,” “luminance” and “visual stimulus.”

But the gist of the story was that, yes, there is a compelling correlation between highway lighting and driving performance.

Highway lighting can reduce the ratio of night-to-day accidents by as much as 14 percent, the report states.

Another analysis found the safety benefit to be much higher, at 32 percent for property-damage accidents.

Then this: “The average night/day accident rate was 66 percent greater on unlighted freeways than on lighted freeways, and night accidents could be reduced by an average of 40 percent by the illumination of an unlighted freeway.”

Every day, hundreds of thousands of motorists travel up and down I-85. One would think that local drivers especially would be up in arms over the darkness.

However, that hasn’t been the case, said Kim Conroy, the deputy director and chief engineer for the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation.

“Surprisingly enough, we have received few requests with concerns about that, at least at our office,” he told me. “Because there are so many cars out there, visibility is pretty good.”

True.

Cruising down I-85 is the antithesis of traveling through Montana or rural South Georgia, for that matter.

But there’s no doubt about it: Illumination, even on heavily traveled I-85, promotes safety. Conroy admitted as much.

Then he shared some information and asked that I pass it on to you.

Gwinnett County recently contacted officials at Jackson EMC and Georgia Power and asked them to flick on the now snuffed-out lights.

The unlighted sections of I-85 should be illuminated within the next 30 to 45 days.

“That was part of a budget reduction last year, and they’ll be turned back on shortly,” he said. “We feel it’s a good thing to turn them back on.”

Me, too.

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.

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