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Statistics show safety improving at Ga. 365/Howard Road intersection
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Except for a July 12 wreck that killed three people and injured six, law enforcement statistics show safety has improved, at least slightly, at Ga. 365 and Howard Road since a traffic light began operating there a year ago today.

The number of collisions over a 12-month period ending Oct. 15 was 12, compared to 14 between Oct. 15, 2011, and Oct. 15, 2012, according to Gainesville Police Department numbers obtained by The Times.

The number of injuries over the two-year span dropped to 19 from 20 and vehicles involved to 26 from 32.

However, one fatality was recorded in the 2011-12 reporting period, while three were recorded in 2012-13. Marring the numbers was the July wreck, which is still under investigation.

“From where we started to where we are right now, I think (the safety situation) is much better, totally,” police spokesman Cpl. Joe Britte said Wednesday.

“It’s just unfortunate that area there is highly populated with a lot of traffic and the speed limit (change) and all that, so I think we’re a step in the right direction.”

The intersection, the first one that motorists face after leaving the limited-access

Interstate 985, has long been a public safety concern.

The speed limit drops to 65 from 70, but high speeds continue. Plus, local traffic — including tractor-trailers headed to surrounding industries — frequently mixes with commuters and people headed to the North Georgia mountains.

The result has been a flurry of serious accidents, speeders and other issues along the road.

An April 28, 2012, crash that killed a Clayton woman triggered a public safety campaign, including a plea from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office, to fix the crossing. That resulted in the installation of the traffic light.

The July wreck spurred a meeting at the Georgia Department of Transportation office at 2505 Athens Highway involving state and local government officials, lawmakers, law enforcement and emergency responders.

As a result, several improvements have been made, including:

  • Installation of rumble strips on approaches to the intersection, before existing advance warning beacons.
  • Installation of reflective back plate frames, which outline the signal and make it more visible to motorists.
  • A protected left-turn arrow on the traffic light, where motorists have to wait for the green arrow before they can turn.

Teri Pope, DOT district spokeswoman, said DOT’s lighting office is working on a plan with Racetrac, which has a convenience store at the intersection, and Gainesville to install lighting at the intersection and on the approach to the crossing.

The plan is “still in (the) discussion and development stage,” she said.

In addition, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted Sept. 26 to approve a traffic signal permit application for Ga. 365 at Ramsey Road, which is about 1 mile north of Howard Road.

That move pleased Phil Sutton, chief administrative officer at Kubota Manufacturing of America Co., a tractor and heavy equipment manufacturer that sits off Ramsey and White Sulphur roads, just west of Ga. 365.

“Our No. 1 goal is to make sure that we have the safest workplace for our folks,” Sutton said at the time. “The county and the state’s contribution to that (project) is great because we have 1,200 employees that almost all pass through that intersection two times a day.

“We’re pleased with anything they can do to improve safety of our folks coming to and going home from work.”

Georgia State Patrol statistics also show a general increase in safety along Ga. 365 through Hall County.

Over a 12-month period ending Tuesday, the agency had 3,691 traffic stops and 105 crashes with 41 injuries. Over the same period in 2011-12, the agency had 2,747 traffic stops and 128 crashes with 77 injuries.

Trooper Jonathan Munger, spokesman for Gainesville-based Post 6, said he believes the numbers show “we’ve been aggressively patroling Ga. 365. Our crash numbers are down and our injuries are down almost in half.”

He also praised the addition of the left-turn signals at the Howard Road traffic light.

“You used to have just the green light and that’s where a lot of the traffic crashes would come from,” Munger said.