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New left-turn signals emerging in Georgia

POSTED: June 2, 2014 12:07 a.m.

New left-turn signal in South Hall

Motorists travel through the new left-turn signal in South Hall

NAT GURLEY /The Times

A driver takes advantage of the new flashing yellow arrow to turn from Ga. 347 southbound onto Spout Springs Road eastbound. Last week's pattern began with the traditional solid red light holding straight-ahead drivers as a green arrow let left-turning drivers proceed, followed by a flashing yellow arrow and solid red arrow. As the straight-ahead light turned green, a yellow left-turn arrow began flashing, allowing left turns with yields to oncoming traffic and pedestrian.

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The Georgia Department of Transportation is introducing a new left-turn signal featuring a flashing yellow light, with the first one installed in Hall County on May 21.

The signal, which features four left-turn arrows, has been picking up nationwide steam, with Georgia adopting the new signal as its standard early this year.

State officials “wanted to see (its) effectiveness in other states and study the long-term impacts of this type of signal,” district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

The first signals installed in the DOT’s Northeast Georgia district were in Forsyth, Barrow and Jackson counties.

The Hall County lights are on Ga. 347 northbound and southbound at Spout Springs Road and on Spout Springs northbound at Ga. 347.

The intersection is in Braselton, situated among heavy commercial development and Ga. 347 construction that’s taking place between Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway and Interstate 985.

“The signal is operating well,” Pope said last week. “Traffic is flowing well through the intersection.”

The new signal will be installed at intersections with heavy left-turn traffic volumes, according to the DOT.

The signal’s solid red light means drivers must stop, and green means drivers can go freely. Flashing yellow means drivers can turn left but yield to pedestrians and oncoming vehicles; a solid yellow means drivers should prepare to stop as the light is about to turn red.

“It’s confusing at first,” said Lou Solis, Braselton’s assistant police chief. “Once you get used to it, then you’re good to go.”

District Engineer Bayne Smith said when the Ga. 347 stretch between Spout Springs and Ga. 211 partially opened earlier this year, “we knew traffic turning left would increase.”

“A review of the intersection showed the need for left-turn arrows on three of the four sides of the intersection.”

Federal Highway Administration studies have shown the new signals help reduce crashes of left-turning vehicles by as much as 35 percent, the DOT stated in a news release.

The signal, known formally as a four-section flashing yellow arrow, “also offers clearer guidance to drivers turning left and allows them more movement through the intersection when no pedestrians or oncoming traffic are present, thereby reducing backups, engine idling and auto emissions.”

“We believe this will help drivers wanting to make a left turn better understand when they can do so freely, when they may proceed with their turn cautiously, and when they may not turn left,” Smith said.

“Our primary purpose is to reduce the often-devastating angle crashes that result when a left-turning vehicle is struck by oncoming traffic.”

In addition to the Georgia DOT locations, cities and counties throughout the state will be identifying eligible locations and apply to the DOT for permits for the new traffic signals.

Johns Creek was one of the first communities in Georgia to use the new signals, putting them on McGinnis Ferry Road five or six years ago.

Gainesville is looking to put up the new signals along Dawsonville Highway.

“I can’t give a definitive time (when they’ll be installed), but it is in the works,” said David Dockery, public works director.

Scott Puckett, Hall County’s traffic engineer, said Hall is looking at putting up the light along Spout Springs Road as part of a future widening project there.

“But (we) have no plans to retrofit any of our existing signals at this time,” he said.

The DOT has no plans to install the lights on other state-maintained routes in Hall at this time, but “any new (left-turn) signal approved on a state route will be this type of signal,” Pope said.



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