After another accident on U.S. 441 Tuesday morning that left a motorist in critical condition, residents of Milledgeville and neighboring cities are again voicing their concerns – concerns they feel are being ignored.

The hilly stretch of U.S. 441 near Meriweather Road has been the scene of a number of accidents in recent years, some of which have been fatal.

The accidents in almost every case occur when rain accumulates on the road and flows down the hills, causing vehicles to hydroplane, according to reports from law enforcement and witness statements.

Vonda Everett with the DOT said this particular stretch of highway is safe, but any roadway can be unsafe when motorists are driving too fast during heavy rainfall.

“Anyone who responsibly lowers their speed when encountering heavy rainfall will most likely not lose control of their vehicle, and if they do, will be able to regain control quickly,” Everett said.

But those who have either witnessed these accidents firsthand or have lost loved ones in fatal accidents disagree with the DOT’s appraisal of the situation.

Steve Gregory of Eatonton was driving northbound on U.S. 441 last summer when he lost control of his 2003 Chevrolet Silverado.

Gregory said the buildup of water draining down the hill caused his vehicle to hydroplane across the median into oncoming traffic. He struck another pickup headed northbound, and both vehicles were totaled.

Gregory said that he was driving 55 or 60 miles an hour, and his tires were in good condition. In fact, law enforcement and fire and rescue officials at the scene told him the accident was not his fault and that “this happens here all the time,” he recalled.

“I shot across that road just like a bullet,” Gregory said. “Seat belts and air bags saved my life that day. There’s no speed that’s safe there when it’s raining.

“I know several people that have been paralyzed and killed there,” he added. “Everyone was agreeing there was a problem there, but no one was wanting to step up,” he added.

Local automobile dealer Jimmy Childre, whose fiancé was killed in an accident in the same area in August of 2002, agrees that the problem needs attention. Water draining from one of the hills is what he believes caused her car to hydroplane into oncoming traffic.

Childre said reports of accidents began when U.S. 441 was widened several years ago.

Ronnie Trubey of Eatonton, whose cousin died a few days after an accident in the same location, said the problem could be caused by granite underneath the road, impeding the road from draining properly.

“The water drains down both hills,” he said. “I’ve come very close to having accidents. I think the DOT has probably had problems there.”

Milledgeville Police Chief Woodrow Blue Jr., says accidents can be avoided if drivers slow down and remain alert when driving on wet roads.

The Georgia State Patrol has responded to three accidents in that location in the last three years. The Milledgeville Police Department, who is responsible for traffic response in the area, could not compile its accident reports by press time.

The DOT this month will award a contract to resurface nearly six miles of SR 24 (U.S. 441), beginning south of Marshall Road and extending north to Cay Drive, “to further increase the safety of our traveling public,” she stated.

The status of the driver who was injured Tuesday was not available.



Jim Brock can be reached at (478) 453-1456 or at newsroom@unionrecorder.com

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