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Clarks Bridge Road: Proceed with caution?

Some residents say road is dangerous

POSTED: May 12, 2009 11:06 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Memorials for Elisha Sue Smith are painted on the road at the scene of the fatal roll over crash on Clarks Bridge Road.

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For the most part, Clarks Bridge Road is a pretty quiet street.

There are a few businesses sprinkled throughout the largely residential area, and the farther north you drive along the road, the more rural it becomes.

Besides a change in scenery, some say heading northbound also brings another change: more dangerous drivers.

"We’ve lived here around 30 years, and it has just turned into a speedway," said Lisa Westmorland, who lives on Clarks Bridge, north of the Lake Lanier Olympic Center.

"People use it as a short cut so that they don’t have to go onto Cleveland Highway and they just go wide open."

In the decades that she has lived on the road, Westmorland says she has seen numerous drivers lose control and veer off the road.

She knows firsthand how dangerous traffic conditions are on the road, where official speeds vary from 35 to 55 mph. On May 2, her husband, Dub Westmorland, was sitting in his truck in their driveway when it was hit by an out-of-control driver.

"(My husband) was sitting there, waiting to pull out, and he says he looked up to his left and saw the truck coming toward him," Westmorland said. "He says the next thing he remembers is waking up on the stretcher."

Prior to hitting her husband, Westmorland says the driver also "took out two mail boxes."

In addition to suffering bumps and bruises and needing multiple stitches in his forehead, Dub Westmorland’s truck also was totaled in the accident. The Westmorlands also will have to replace their fence, something they’ve had to do multiple times because of drivers running off the road.

On Friday, the road was the scene of a fatal traffic accident. At about 3 p.m., a speeding sport utility vehicle left the road and flipped several times before ejecting all four passengers. One passenger, Elisha Sue Smith of Clermont, died Friday. The identities of the other passengers still are not available, but all were injured. The crash currently is being investigated by the Georgia State Patrol.

Westmorland isn’t the only resident concerned about the speeders on the road.

"I’ve only lived here a month, and I can already see that speeding is a problem," said Heather Glasgow, who recently relocated to Gainesville from Alabama.

"You pull out thinking the road is clear and someone will come hauling around the corner. I almost got hit by a car (Tuesday morning) that way."

Clarks Bridge is a state route, and the speed limits are set by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Every three years, the department reviews the speed limits on state roads and adjusts rates if necessary.

"We set speed limits using a set of standardized criteria like sight distance and geometry of the roads. If a local jurisdiction requests it, we will review the speed limits before the three-year marker," said Teri Pope, state transportation spokeswoman.

"However, with money being so tight right now, I don’t know that we could do a speed limit study ahead of time. With the budget crunch, we are currently leaving some positions vacant after employees retire and a lot of retirements have been coming from the department that conducts those studies."

Because the state transportation department doesn’t have enforcement powers, officials say that if speeding is an issue, the solution can be found on the local level.

"If speeding is the problem, local law enforcement is the remedy," said Pope. "If drivers aren’t following the speed limits now, it is highly unlikely that they will follow them if we change the speed."



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