Updated Signage on I-75 Legacy of Fatal Bus Wreck

Georgians, if you have driven south through Atlanta along I-75 recently, you may have noticed some new road markings around the Northside Drive exit. That is because, after some controversy, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is finally taking the time to update some seriously flawed signage around the Northside Drive exit and the diamond carpool lane. Unfortunately, this much needed change was two very long years in the making.

Anyone who lived or worked in Atlanta during March 2007 most likely recalls the tragic bus accident that occurred in the early hours of March 2. A charter bus carrying 33 members of the Bluffton University (Ohio) baseball team was on its way to Sarasota, Florida. The driver, a relief driver who was well rested, decided to take the diamond HOV lane along I-75, but made a fatal mistake. Thinking that he was still in the HOV lane, he instead exited the interstate on a left HOV-only exit ramp. This ramp led up to a T-junction with a stop sign, but the driver, still traveling at interstate speeds, was unable to stop at the top of the bridge and lost control. The bus slid sideways into a concrete bridge wall with an attached security fence, but then dropped 19 feet from the opposite side of the bridge, landing on its side back on the interstate below.

Seven people, including the driver and his wife, were killed in the accident while seven more were seriously injured. Twenty one more passengers received minor injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board, upon investigating the accident thoroughly, concluded that the diver mistook the HOV-only exit ramp for a continuation of the HOV lane. They further cited a failure on the part of the GDOT to provide proper signage.

If you were one of the commuters who drives along I-75 southbound every day, you probably remember the traffic jam from that day. And you possibly noticed, too, that the signage, though it had already been cited as the cause of a major tragedy, did not change. More than a year later, a July 2008 Atlanta Journal Constitution article pointed out that the state was taking bids to change its signs. In the mean time, the state of Georgia ended up paying a total of $3 million to the injured parties in the Bluffton bus crash. $3 million, by state tort law, is the maximum liability that can be incurred by the state of Georgia for one incident.

Then, in early in April of this year, a two bus convoy nearly made the same mistake as the Bluffton bus driver and the GDOT was criticized yet again for failing to change the signage in a timely manner. Now though, perhaps fueled by public perception, the GDOT is working in the spot and says that the overhead signs will soon be up. With this change, we can hopefully avoid what NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker called a “terrible and tragic accident … that didn’t have to happen.”

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Signs at I-75 ramp incomplete, 2 years later, Atlanta Journal Constitution