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GDOT recommending big roundabout for Fair Road-301 Bypass intersection
City leaders express support for project at Statesboro’s most-wrecks crossing, other changes on Fair Road
The intersection of Fair Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway (US 301 Bypass) is shown with traffic at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 23. The city of Statesboro is considering putting a roundabout at the busy crossroads. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Georgia Department of Transportation engineers, following a safety audit of Fair Road out to its intersection with Veterans Memorial Parkway, recommend converting that highly trafficked intersection into a large roundabout, Statesboro’s city Public Works and Engineering Director John Washington informed City Council members during a May 21 work session.

Washington, as well as the city manager and assistant city manager and council members who were present, expressed support for the idea, and Mayor Jonathan McCollar has signed a letter of support addressed to Georgia DOT District Traffic Engineer Joseph Capello for a number of proposed improvements to Fair Road, including the roundabout.

Fair Road is Statesboro’s name for State Route 67 from South Main Street out to the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds. Veterans Memorial Parkway is, of course, the U.S. Highway 301 Bypass. What Washington presented was his own summary of safety concerns identified in the GDOT safety audit of Fair Road from Georgia Avenue to the bypass and what are apparently the GDOT’s recommendations from the district level or from consulting engineers.

Washington’s accompanying slide show included illustrations by the Atkins engineering arm of SNC-Lavalin-Group, recently rebranded AtkinsRéalis, of proposed improvements to five segments of Fair Road.

The last slide depicted the roundabout as an orange vortex of lanes with a green core, representing a grassy or landscaped center, superimposed on an aerial photograph of Statesboro’s busiest intersection. Three lanes approach and two lanes depart from the roundabout in each direction. Each farthest-right lane would be a right-turn-only lane, but two lanes would go around the circle.

“Here’s the big picture that they’ve wanted to propose, and they’ve asked us for a letter of support for this intersection,” Washington said. “Rather than trying to put dual lefts and more signals and everything else – people run redlights in this town, the most I’ve ever seen in my career – they are proposing a roundabout, a two-lane roundabout, for the intersection of Fair Road and the bypass.”


‘To slow them down’

After working for private engineering firms and industry earlier in his career, Washington was hired as Statesboro’s city engineer near five years ago and retains that title while now heading a larger department.

“From an engineer’s point of view, when you’re in a roundabout, you have less of a ‘T’ crash situation,” he said. “You have an angle, which is a less severe accident. … You’ve got an object in the middle of the road where people come around the bypass going 65, whenever they’re not going 55 … and you’ve got to slow them down, and this would  slow them down.”

For the GDOT’s purposes, and also probably the city’s, he said, a roundabout also poses lower maintenance costs than maintaining all of the traffic signals.

This concept illustration of the five-lane Fair Road-Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection converted to a roundabout, prepared by the AtkinsRéalis firm for the Georgia Department of Transportation, was included in a slide show for the Tuesday, May 21, Statesboro mayor and council work session.


Tops for crashes

In introducing the work session topics, City Manager Charles Penny had noted that Police Chief Mike Broadhead in annual reports has repeatedly identified the Fair Road-Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection as the city’s most frequent traffic crash location.

In fact, with the Statesboro Police Department’s 2023 report, delivered this February, Broadhead noted that all of Statesboro’s five worst intersections for wrecks last year were on the bypass, with 145 crashes at the Fair Road intersection, 68 at Northside Drive East, 66 at Lanier Drive, 49 at Brannen Street and 40 crashes on South Main Street at the parkway intersection.

Broadhead did not attend the May 21 work session. But phoned Friday, he looked back at the department’s reports and found that the Fair Road intersection has had the highest numbers of crashes, investigated by the SPD, of any location in the city limits for at least six consecutive years. The numbers were 100 wrecks in 2018; then 82 wrecks in 2019; another 72 in 2020; then 102 in 2021; a record 150 crashes in 2022; and last year’s 145.

“That’s also, like, the highest-volume intersection in our city,” Broadhead said. “You know, all of our top five crash locations tend to be right along the bypass … and they’re just big, high-volume locations, and then speeds are up a little bit because the bypass has a higher speed limit.”

He didn’t recall any fatalities among the 2023 crashes at the Fair Road-U.S. 301 Bypass crossing, and a quick search of the Statesboro Herald’s online story archive didn’t turn up any in the past few years.

But some of the accidents there do result in serious injuries, Broadhead noted. The newspaper seldom reports any non-fatal accidents. But it’s also possible, he confirmed, that a fatal accident, immediately turned over by the police to the Georgia State Patrol for investigation, might not be counted in the SPD’s annual report.


District wide?

Washington, in his comments to council members, said GDOT personnel have told him this intersection has the highest number of accidents of any crossing in a larger area than just Statesboro’s city limits.

“They’ve shared with me on a number of occasions, going back, that there’s three intersections that they monitor, and Fair Road and the bypass was Number 2, but now it’s their Number 1 intersection for the highest crashes in the region, their District 5 region.”

However, unable to reach Washington or a GDOT District 5 spokesperson Friday going into the Memorial Day weekend, the Statesboro Herald was unable to verify or determine exactly what this means. The GDOT website shows District 5, headquartered at Jesup, encompassing 26 counties, also including the Savannah, Baxley, Brunswick and Waycross areas. But the district is further divided into those five “areas,” and Statesboro Area 4 includes just Bulloch, Candler, Effingham, Evans and Screven counties.


Other recommendations

The safety audit identified multiple concerns along the entire stretch of State Route 67/Fair Road from Georgia Avenue to the bypass and made other recommendations, Washington reported. One recommendation is to install a seven-inch-tall raised median in a couple of sections, one closer to Georgia Avenue and another beyond the hospital and Market District, to prevent left turns across the opposing lanes, except with crossover possible for emergency vehicles.

Some intersections would be realigned to improve viewing angles, and “minor intersections” would be made right-in, right-out-only, as would commercial driveways.


City’s support

City Manager Charles Penny and Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles expressed support for the improvements, including the roundabout.

“A roundabout really is the best way to save lives. It’s the safest measure, to have that roundabout. …,” Penny said. “When I look at the bypass, the bypass is to help move traffic around our city, and it’s an asset, but the people who use the bypass act like it is … I-95 or I-16, because the cars are moving so fast, and this is a bad intersection. … So professionally, it wouldn’t even bother me if we had another one, further up.”

Boyles noted a fatal pedestrian accident that occurred at another bypass intersection and said the roundabout would be safer for pedestrians.

Councilmember Shari Barr said she had two reasons for backing the roundabout idea.

“It’s not only safer, but – I had not thought about it till I started researching, … reading more about it – but pollution-wise, environmentally, you won’t have cars backed up at a stoplight with your engine running and exhaust  going, because traffic keeps moving,” she said.

Councilmembers John Riggs and Paulette Chavers said they liked the concept, but Chavers asked when the project is proposed to be built.

“If you took out the roundabout, the other projects they propose are roughly about two years to get it to construction and one year to construct. …,” Washington said. “The raised medians could probably be done very quickly. I don’t know about the roundabout. They’d have to acquire some right of way, and some other things too.”

Penny and Boyles said they thought three-to-five years would probably be needed for the roundabout.

No cost estimates were mentioned. Phoned Friday, Penny and Boyles said the roundabout would be entirely a state-funded project.

They provided a copy of the letter, dated May 15 and now signed by Mayor McCollar, expressing “support of the proposed changes in roadway configuration as presented in the Safety Audit of the subject road.”

But the Herald did not obtain a copy of the safety audit report on Friday.

“We have not received the full safety audit yet,” Boyles wrote in an email. “My understanding is GDOT's consultant will complete their study once GDOT receives an acknowledgment of support for recommended safety improvements from the City.”

Meanwhile, construction has yet to begin on a smaller roundabout first suggested for the Fair Road-South Main Street intersection in a 2017 GDOT safety audit and for which the state and city governments began scheduling funds by the beginning of 2021.

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