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'The way my sister left us, that's what hurts': Family of hit-and-run victim searches for answers, promised Bibb pedestrian safety improvements

The Gray Highway area has been on GDOT's and Macon-Bibb's radar since 2016, but some officials say they've made no progress on pedestrian improvements.

MACON, Ga. — If you drive along Gray Highway in east Macon, you're bound to notice at least one person crossing the street with no crosswalk in sight.

It's led to countless accidents and deaths over the years, and a push for improvements. Macon-Bibb County's pedestrian safety review board can only make recommendations, and the county says their hands are tied. They say only the Georgia Department of Transportation can make the necessary changes.

"Every morning I'd get up, she'd be on the outside. But in the morning time now, it's hard to get up, and go out there and she's not there," said Kenneth Gilbert, a longtime neighbor of Irene Stubbs.

An empty chair on the porch leaves an empty spot in the hearts of those who knew Stubbs.

"That's the one that rocked me when I cried at night. That's the one that rocked me. Rocked this one too," said Stubbs' sister, Beverly Barrian, as she motioned to her brother, Roy Brooks.

Her family remembers Stubbs as a caring woman who loved them all, and took names in a game of spades.

"You on the table with her? You're gonna get up," Barrian laughed. "Because she's gonna tell you, 'Come on round this corner. I gotcha. You ready baby sister? We're gonna get him.'"

Faithful and prayerful, "She loved being in the choir," her uncle, Pastor Willie Simmons, remembered.

She was kind to everyone she met, said her brother, Roy Brooks.

"She loved everyone. I mean everyone, I mean, she'd give you clothes off her back," he said.

July 16, 2021, this family lost their beacon of light. A driver hit her in the intersection of Wood Valley Road and Clinton Road. He sped off.

"The way my sister left us, that's what hurts," Barrian said, fighting back tears from behind her dark sunglasses.

A few months later, Macon-Bibb commissioners renamed their 'Complete Streets Policy' after Irene Stubbs. They promised lighting, sidewalks and more to keep pedestrians safe. Almost nine months later, Stubbs' family says nothing has happened.

"It might seem like nothing's happened, but there's incremental things that've been done throughout the years," said County Manager Keith Moffett.

In 2016, the county and Georgia Department of Transportation highlighted Gray Highway from Shurling Drive to the Jones County line as a safety concern. That report took data from 2012 to 2016, and shows at least one pedestrian death just steps away from where Stubbs was killed.

Seven more pedestrians died along the highway in that time. Four more were seriously injured. Years later, some county leaders like Moffett are adamant they've done some of the work.

"To say that we didn't do anything for the plan is not true," Moffett said.

Greg Brown, who chairs the county's pedestrian safety review board, says nothing's been done. He blames communication issues with GDOT.

"Over the years with GDOT, it really was minimum communication," Brown explained.

He says the county's power is limited in this situation, since GDOT manages the road. There are some things they can do with GDOT's blessing, he said.

"Nothing necessarily in terms of making any type of improvements or modifications to the roadway," he said.

They can add lighting and improved signage. Brown says that's on the table in future talks. As for why nothing happened sooner, Moffett says they simply didn't know who to call.

"When the roads are readily identifiable, then people know. But sometimes when we live in this community, we're blind to those to those signs sometimes. So, we really don't know if it's a state route or a county road," Moffett said.

Drive on Gray Highway, and the 'state route' signs are hard to miss. A five-minute Google search will show you 'Gray Highway' is both State Route 11 and 22, and U.S. Route 129.

"People have an expectation that their issues are being addressed, but I will tell you whether it's a state route or a county road we will respond accordingly," Moffett said.

The county is working with GDOT again at quarterly summits to identify more problem areas, like Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue. Six years after the Gray Highway report, there are no additional sidewalks, no additional crosswalks, and no additional lighting; no end in sight for the pain families like Irene Stubbs' feel every single day.

"Is our heart empty, there's a void? Yes it is. Yes it is. It's a big void. But we hold onto the memories that she left us," Barrian said.

GDOT sent us a statement, but declined to comment further. They say they're working with Macon-Bibb officials to prioritize safety solutions throughout the Gray Highway corridor. They say the transportation planning process GDOT and the county are working on will include Gray Highway. The question that remains is how much longer before families see some results. 

Here's the full GDOT statement:

"The safety of all Georgians is critically important and a primary goal of the Georgia Dept. of Transportation (GDOT). GDOT is working closely with Macon-Bibb officials and stakeholders currently to identify and implement solutions related to safety and mobility throughout the Gray Highway corridor, and works in partnership with the Macon-Bibb Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to identify and prioritize projects in this region. The MPO Process is mandated by the federal government and is represented in many other metropolitan cities such as Atlanta, Columbus, and Warner Robins. GDOT is an active partner in this process, but only one of many organizations represented at the table.

Many safety projects have been implemented in the Macon-Bibb area resulting from this continued partnership and from GDOT’s responsiveness to the needs and prioritization set by the Macon-Bibb MPO, as well as from the results of safety studies throughout the 31-county district. Those projects include upgrades to traffic signals and pedestrian infrastructure on Eisenhower Parkway, pedestrian and signal upgrades on Pio Nono Avenue, roundabouts on Eisenhower Parkway, and future roundabouts and pedestrian improvements along Mercer University Drive and Pio Nono Avenue.

The transportation planning process undertaken by the Macon-Bibb MPO, and in partnership with the city and GDOT, will include Gray Highway as well as many other roads in the area. We will continue this path of working with the Macon-Bibb officials to determine the best outcomes regarding the region’s diverse roadway systems."


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