Sometimes, however, there are local agencies who go out on a limb and handle their assigned duty so incorrectly that photos do them plenty of justice. We posted a golden example of this with the disgraceful practices of Cullman, AL showcased. These are agencies that clearly have neither guidance nor will to follow proper roadway practices, and they get away with it largely because of the laissez-faire attitudes of state governments who will not penalize non-compliance possibly due to the fact that they are not even managing their own work well. Legally their hands are also tied because of home rule laws preventing any significant interference thus there is no such thing as checks and balances in traffic engineering. GDOT is certainly a state with its own issues with managing traffic control, so it is no surprise that Rabun County, GA was one of the latest counties to abuse their authority to maintain traffic control devices.
Here is the curve described in the sign above. While it is indeed mountainous in the location, the hazard appears to be overstated. This is where a proper traffic study of this road would have been very useful, but the state's program to correct issues on roads like this did not have sufficient funding to correct problems like that.
Rabun County is not quite as bad as the Cullman example in that there were at least some efforts to follow standard practices. The county uses approved fonts, for instance, though the application of those fonts is usually incorrect. The county also partnered recently with GDOT to have four county roads re-engineered for proper signage with federal-funded replacements meaning that those roads are momentarily no longer presenting an issue until further maintenance is needed. It also does not mean that the problems that do exist are not just as glaring and extreme on every other road.
Design fail here on Black Rock Mountain Road, the county-maintained spur to Black Rock Mountain State Park. Neither the advisory nor curve sign are correctly designed on a post about 2' off the ground.
GDOT's lack of direct funding or oversight of local traffic control work also poses a problem. In all, Rabun County's terrain mainly calls for engineering corrections only on these longer and more heavily traveled mountain roads where other less important roads with continuous hairpin curves can be corrected by either setting the speed limit to match the determined advisory speed for a majority of curves or in the case of residential roads not posting these signs at all.
For this reason, it would be best for the county if they would consider becoming one of the pioneers in pursuing a regional traffic control plan. The first step the county could take is to partner with a neighboring county by merging their traffic control units. It just so happens that Rabun County borders Habersham County, a county with a traffic engineer who appears to be especially knowledgeable about traffic control and has invested heavily in the county's signs. Rabun County could agree to share the cost of funding the county engineer based on proportion of population to the population of both counties combined (meaning Rabun County would cover 27% of the cost). The cost savings for Habersham could be used for Habersham to help fund initial traffic studies for Rabun with the difference or to furnish them with traffic control devices. This would cost far less than the county attempting to figure this out on their own. Consider how this would work if the two counties combined costs:
- Habersham County has a population of 43,752 (2014)
- Rabun County has a population of 16,243 (2014)
- The combined populations of both counties is 59,995
- Thus Rabun County's population ratio divided by the combined population is 27%
Under this combined effort, Rabun County could then provide a budget for the county engineer to work with allowing him the authority to oversee county traffic control, combine purchases, use a single sign shop for both counties and share costs. It would be a win-win for both counties. Habersham County saves money on a traffic engineer in turn for Rabun County receiving better supervision for a critical county service. If the county engineer's salary is, for example, $85,000 a year then Rabun County contributes $22,950 in turn for Habersham providing an equivalent sum in traffic studies, traffic signs and pavement markings.
The combination of the two county's traffic control units and engineering units should not be where it stops. While the combination will result in better roads and huge cost savings for both counties, no special reason exists that it has to end with two counties. If the fusion of two counties for roads is successful, then the two agencies should then try to recruit other counties in the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission boundaries to join them starting with counties that are bordered by both counties. This means first Towns and Stephens Counties. Like Rabun, neither county has a traffic engineer hired and neither have the resources to provide adequate traffic control services on their own. Before this is done, however, both Rabun and Habersham should turn to the cities within to also combine traffic control with the counties. If those counties and cities agree to join then they can attempt to recruit more adjoining counties and cities within such as White, Banks, Franklin and even Hall County.
The idea here is that because most of the counties are incapable of adequately providing these specific public services to proper levels on their own, they begin to form a regional highway system starting with traffic control. Obviously, organic growth of a regional highway system is a fertile ground to test regional transportation solutions. It is not a permanent solution, but it is necessary to prove to state leaders that combining specific roadway functions without transferring ownership to a larger agency could be successful. If no counties are willing to pioneer the concept, then the state is also not likely to pursue it.
Let us consider that Rabun County is now formed into what is now known as the (entirely fictional) Tallulah Falls Local Roads Cooperative. The Tallulah Falls Local Roads Cooperative is now an agency spanning seven counties. We will assume in this instance that Hall County declined. The new cooperative has the following duties:
- Traffic Engineering
- Each partner county pays a percentage of the salaries of all staff engineers based on the ratio of the county population divided by the population of all member counties combined
- In turn, each partner county receives engineering services or safety improvements based on need
- Note that the Rabun-Habersham exchange model will not work with more than two partners
- Services rendered will be considered free based on the operations costs, but costs for materials must be funded by each member jurisdiction
- Additional traffic engineers or technicians hired must be agreed upon by all parties
- Traffic Control
- All purchases are combined for all traffic sign materials, pavement markings and guardrails
- A central sign shop is developed for in-house materials
- This is needed primarily for the production of custom signs including street name signs, guide signs and special warning/regulatory signs
- Not all traffic control devices will be produced in-house
- The centralized traffic engineering unit supervises all installation and maintenance of traffic control devices
- Each member agency receives in traffic control what they put into it.
- This means that if Rabun County budgets a retainer $10,000 in a single year for traffic signs and pavement markings, the central traffic control unit will be permitted to spend that much in Rabun County
- Anything not spent in that year will be rolled over into next year's budget for that agency
- A committee is formed out of existing elected leaders (one from each county and city participating) that oversees the activities and budget of the local roads cooperative
- The committee supervises engineers and other employees in the cooperative making the final decisions on hiring, firing, policies and standards
- The committee meets jointly per request of committee members
- Seven counties (including cities) with a combined population of 165,102
- The combined counties have changed the population characteristics for road funding from a series of rural counties to that of a small urban county such as adjacent Hall County
- This means that the resources could then be distributed like a more urbanized county
- Habersham, the highest in population, would be required to pay 26.5% of the cost for a traffic engineering unit vs. 100% of the cost now for their own county
- Towns, the lowest in population, would be required to pay 6.7% of the cost for a traffic engineering unit for which they currently have none
- If three engineers were hired at $100,000 a piece, the cost for Habersham would be likely less than the cost for one full-time engineer while for Towns County would be $20,100. For Towns County, this is the equivalent to one full-time employee earning $9.66/hour.
For this reason, the only economical solution is to stop trying to do it themselves. Because of the small population of the county, the county's options to fix traffic control issues is twofold:
- Transfer the responsibility to GDOT (not currently offered to any county or city)
- Combine resources with one or more counties so that trained staff and adequate resources are available to do what Rabun County cannot seem to handle (starting with Habersham County)
Creating regional traffic control solutions need to become common discussion around Georgia as a means to assure that public safety is treated as something of high importance. With such a high number of counties, relying on county government is not an effective solution to this problem as this post demonstrates. Exposure of the problem may lead to some small changes, but they would not be enough to correct the overall situation. The overall situation is a lack of coordination among properly trained employees, and a lack of economies of scale needed to make sure the most can be done with the least resources. The better solution is to stop looking within for the answers when it involves rural counties such as Rabun and to start looking at ways of handing this responsibility to qualified professionals.