Tracey Burnette was brought to tears late last month when she arrived home from work to see a clearing in her front yard.
“I knew we were in line to have these trees taken down, and I was not sure what kind of an emotional impact it would have on me,” she said. “My mom, Betty Anne Bagley, used to climb those trees when she was growing up, and they have always been a part of my yard ever since we built the house in 1970. It was so sad.”
Construction crews cut down the trees and dozens more to make way for turn lanes at the busy Ga. 53 and Etowah River Road intersection, a project expected to be completed next summer at a cost of about $2.7 million.
The fourth generation of her family to live on the property, Burnette is among 23 families affected by the roadwork, which is intended to improve safety at the crossing by adding right- and left-turn lanes on Ga. 53 and left-turn lanes on Etowah River and Thompson roads.
“My family, along with other folks, has been fighting with the DOT for about two years on this project,” she said. “A simple traffic light would totally take care of the problem.”
Transportation officials disagree.
“The intersection was studied for a traffic signal but did not meet any of the minimum requirements for a signal,” said Teri Pope, a spokeswoman with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Burnette said the explanation amazed her.
“The exact people who go through the other intersections on Ga. 53 go through this one,” she said. “How many people is it going to take to be killed at this intersection before they install a traffic light?”
Crash data for the crossing was not available as of Tuesday afternoon, though Pope said “the crashes were all rear ends. The vehicle waiting to turn left got hit from behind because the motorists could not see over the hill crest.”
“The project will remove that problem,” she said.
In addition to turn lanes, plans also include changing the grade of all three roads to even out the intersection.
Pope said the changes will greatly improve mobility, visibility and safety in the area.
“Improving the grade of (Ga.) 53 and the side streets will allow motorists to see each other and make better driving decisions,” Pope said. “The left-turn lanes will get people waiting to turn left out of the through lane and improve mobility while increasing safety.
“As motorists wait in the through lane to turn left, they are susceptible to rear-end crashes because traffic behind them can’t see they are stopped waiting to turn.”
The project’s completion date is set for June 30.