Railroad crossing on Twin Mountain Lake Road near the water, where a driver ran off the left side of the road last December and nosed into a deep ditch against the railroad embankment.
Twin Mountain Lake Road resident Christy Young phoned the Progress office Tuesday, Dec. 13. As she talked on the phone, she was watching a wrecker haul a crashed vehicle back into the road near her home, she said.
A Chevrolet Blazer had drifted out of a curve as it approached a railroad crossing headed downhill. The vehicle hit the ditch on the near side of the rails and stuck. A wrecker was called to pull it out.
Speed was involved in the accident, Young said. It was not the first such accident she had seen around there, she said. A previous one occurred near the same place, Young said. A truck that time.
"Flying," she said. "Couldn't make the curve, hit a tree and not the lake."
Young said speeders are a problem on her road. "There's a sign at the top of the road telling the speed limit, but they don't seem to care," she said, meaning motorists who ignore the limit: 20 miles per hour. She had previously contacted the Sheriff's Office to ask for speed enforcement on her road, Young said.
"We don't have resources to come out and sit," she said she was told. "I've even offered to have them come out and sit in my yard. I'd be willing to have anything to save somebody. It's a dangerous road here lately."
The Progress looked into it, gaining accident reports for the area from the Georgia State Patrol. A winding road hugs most of the perimeter of the two lakes that are Twin Mountain Lakes. Three other roads meet the perimeter road at different spots, giving access to the lakeshore road.
A total of seven accident reports, dating back to 2005, indicate one accident per year until 2011. During 2011, an accident happened in July, followed by the December accident Young reported to the Progress. Accidents were not confined to a particular place or intersection but happened on the perimeter road and on feeder roads.
Of the seven traffic accidents recorded by the State Patrol, four involved drivers impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication. Reports for the other three accidents (one involving a school bus) listed the narrowness of the road as a contributing factor.
At their origin about a half century ago, the Twin Mountain Lakes were developed as a rural fishing destination. The lakeshore was divided into small lots suitable for campsites. A single-lane gravel road, the perimeter road, gave access. Later, campsites gave way to cabins and houses. More recently, the perimeter road was paved. But it remains essentially a single-lane road accommodating two-way traffic.
A single-lane gravel track road offers some encouragement to drive slowly and cheat toward the ditch when you meet opposing traffic. Lay down some pavement on such a road, though, and traffic speed tends to increase. Drivers seem to forget in cases like this that the track is no wider than it was, still barely capable of squeezing two vehicles beside each other when they meet.
The three accident reports the Progress received concerning vehicle collisions tied to the narrowness of the roadway around Twin Mountain Lakes listed the width of the road at each accident place. In one accident, the road was 12 feet wide. In a second, the road was 13 and a half feet wide. Bear in mind the Georgia Department of Transportation defines a single lane as 11 feet wide.
In the third accident, a school bus sweeping around the outside of a tight curve clipped a car moving in the opposite direction. The left rear quarter panel of the bus struck the left rear quarter panel of the car.
The road width at that collision place was 14 feet, 2 inches. Aware of each other and moving slowly enough, the two vehicles might have met without scraping. But the accident happened at a tight blind curve, where the two vehicles were likely on each other with scant warning.
A north shore lakeside resident expressed surprise the Twin Mountain Lakes neighborhood could tally enough traffic or vehicle collisions to warrant a newspaper story.
"What traffic?" she asked. On a Sunday afternoon, cars passed but seldom. Some drivers do speed, she allowed. And she remembered the bus-car collision that happened close by.
When the Progress told Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig that Christy Young reported phoning his office to seek improved speed enforcement around the lakes, Craig allowed it was the first he had heard of it. After checking with his staff, Craig phoned back to the Progress office.
"I've talked to my chief [deputy] and Lieutenant Grace that's over uniform patrol," the sheriff said, "but nobody's heard of any complaints. We’re aware of some wrecks but not aware that there was an issue."
Craig said the sheriff's office presently has no permit to use radar for speed control on roads near Twin Mountain Lakes. The state must send an inspector to survey a road, check the grade, traffic and other factors before a permit can be issued to county or municipal law enforcement to use radar on a road, he explained.
"Because of the hills and the narrowness [of roads around the lakes], we probably couldn't be permitted to run radar in there," Craig said. "Honestly, with some of the regulations, I don't think we could be permitted for that little area there."
Craig said he would ask the Georgia State Patrol about using its radar equipment for speed control in that area. State law enforcement needs no permit to use radar, he explained.
His own officers can do road checks around the lakes, Craig said. That would be occasional road blocks to check drivers for a legal drivers license, proof of vehicle insurance and to discover impaired drivers. "If you're drinking or doing something [illegal drugs or a controlled substance], don't be on the road," Sheriff Craig advised.
The sheriff's office can also increase the frequency of drive-through patrols in the lakefront community, Craig added. "Be seen in the area a little more," he clarified. "That would maybe slow some folks down."
As to lowering the speed limit around the lakes, Craig said County Commissioner Robert Jones is authorized to make that change. Where the sheriff and commissioner agree a problem exists and lowering the speed limit could help, Jones can make that happen, Craig said. The sheriff advises county residents with road safety concerns to contact him directly.
“If people are concerned, I encourage them to call me here [at the Pickens County Sheriff's Office],” Craig said. “If I'm not aware of it, it's hard to do anything. Any case like that, where it's about patrol safety, speed limits or accidents, I welcome the input.”
“The buck stops here,” he said. “If there's a problem, hopefully we can help them resolve it.”