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'Sugarloaf Speedway' solution on the way?
$95K study examines accident-prone stretch

LAWRENCEVILLE - Jim Phillips was torn from sleep by the sound of an errant vehicle skidding off the roadway, barreling through his holly trees, his fences, and going airborne like a missile into his backyard, sending his dogs into a barking frenzy.

He wasn't too startled. He knew the sound because it'd happened before.

"It's very dangerous to be on Sugarloaf (Parkway) on this stretch," said Phillips, 72, a retired salesman. "People continue to lose control."

Before county traffic experts stepped in, Phillips feared the worst was to come. An abnormal percentage of the road's 25,000 daily travelers are acting more like Mario Andretti than responsible citizens, he said.

Phillips' meticulously landscaped two-story home

overlooks a hairy stretch of roadway locals have dubbed "The Sugarloaf Speedway." It's a snaking, quarter-mile span between Old Norcross Road and U.S. Highway 29 where the median is consistently scarred with skid marks and many telephone poles are fresh replacements for their splintered predecessors.

"We have more accidents in this little four-block stretch than you can imagine," Phillips said. "We haven't had anybody killed yet - but we will, if they don't fix it."

Earlier this year, denizens of neighboring subdivisions decided they were sick and tired of "Speedway" calamities. Convinced police speed crackdowns weren't doing the trick, they contacted Gwinnett County Commission leaders, who pointed them to the local Department of Transportation.

"If there are requests and concerns, we'll definitely analyze it," said Chuck Bailey, director of the county's traffic engineering and planning division. "In this case, we hired a consultant to do an in-depth analysis."

Preliminary recommendations of that $95,000 analysis - conducted by an outside consulting firm and funded through 2005 SPLOST transportation planning money - have included mainly cosmetic solutions, including: the installation of an additional 45 mph speed limit sign; warning signs that continuously flash to alert drivers of the upcoming curve; and a series of chevron-shaped signs signaling the bend.

The measures should be installed by next week, Bailey said. Similar analyses spurred by resident complaints have been conducted on Pounds Road near Rockbridge Road and on Hamilton Mill Parkway in Dacula.

"We've got to make sure that any modifications are appropriate for the area and will address (resident) concerns," Bailey said. "We can't just go out and throw things up."

Beyond the signage, Phillips said he'd hoped to have a barrier installed as a means to prevent crossovers, and deceleration lanes to clear slower moving vehicles. But he's otherwise mollified by the speedy action on the county's part, he said.

Meanwhile, other neighbors have butted heads with Phillips in disagreement of what should be done.

The 70-plus members of the Sugarloaf Alliance, a homeowners group from Gwynay Forest and Davis Mill Woods subdivisions, are pulling for a stoplight or a complete redesign of the road. Safety and access to the busy thoroughfare is a chief concern of the Alliance.

"Its layout is like a Grand Prix track, with several quick curves in a short distance," said John Kida, the Alliance's community watch director. "It's like playing Russian roulette when leaving the communities."

When reckless-driving concerns reach a boiling point, Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. David Schiralli said residents should keep their first step simple. He recommends filing a traffic complaint with police, specifying the particular stretch of roadway or intersection that appears troublesome.

Officers will conduct "aggressive speed enforcement for a number of days," Schiralli said. "They'll assign X amount of officers at that intersection, and they'll make a determination based on the number of speeding tickets" if further action is need or not, he said.