Columbia County, GA (WJBF) – Columbia County residents have watched over the years as miles of dirt roads and acres of untouched land have been transformed into neighborhoods and popular shopping centers.
The suburban feel and low crime rate makes it a dream destination for families, but the population growth has created a dangerous cause and effect situation.
“The population growth has definitely increased our accident count. We’re building a lot of subdivisions, we’re building a lot of homes in Columbia County, it’s really a preferred community which is a good thing,” Captain Andy Shedd with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said.
A detailed graph from the Sheriff’s Office shows the population growth over the past 20 years. In 1996 there were 83,000 people living in Columbia County. Since then that number has consistently climbed, to a population of 140,000 in 2015.
When the population chart is compared to a chart showing traffic accidents over the last 19 years, the statistics are shocking. In 1997 there were just 816 traffic accidents. Jump forward to 2015 where more than 5,000 accidents happened in that year alone.
“How do you stop growth? I mean do you tell people you can’t come, it’s easier said than done, this is where people want to be at and you got to make room for them,” Randy Prickett, with Columbia County Traffic Engineering Services, said.
Randy Prickett is with the county’s traffic engineering department. He showed WJBF News Channel 6 how the traffic engineering team monitors the city’s growth with a system that is unlike any other in the state.
“It changes based on what time of day it is and how much traffic we got,” he said.
Statistics show the intersection of Washington Road and Bobby Jones Expressway has the most wrecks in the county.
Where Columbia Road meets Lewiston Road has the second most accidents, and just a few miles down Columbia Road where it intersects Belair Road is the third most dangerous intersection.
“A lot of projects coming this way that we’re actually on taking ourselves to make it quicker because GDOT is so backed up and short,” Prickett said.
Prickett says there are projects in the works that he can’t release information about just yet.
He does want to assure people that Columbia County is working to stay on top of the traffic problem, but that doesn’t mean the problem is ending anytime soon.
“Until we get through these growing pains in the next 5 to 7 years I think that we’re going to be through the bulk of them, but you just got to have growing pains, that’s just what it’s all about so we’ll get there, we’re getting there,” he explained.
Until then the Sheriff’s Office will continue to monitor dangerous roads with radars and do monthly reports for your safety.