Many of the accidents resulted in serious injury and some, especially at the Plant Road intersection, have resulted in fatalities, although the exact percentages were not available Friday afternoon. The figures presented do include two accidents Thursday, however.
The first half of the bypass was completed in 1987, and it now appears that the circle may finally be closed this summer. Officials with the state Department of Transportation failed to return several phone calls, but the most recent information presented to the Talladega City Council indicates the work completing the bypass could be finished by July or August. Work may go on into September if there are weather problems.
While city government has supported the bypass project from the beginning, the recent announcement that the intersection of Alabama 77 and the new bypass will be controlled by either two or four stop signs. If the two-way stop option is chosen, the stop signs would be on 77, with traffic on the bypass having the right of way.
The council would like to see a stop light at the intersection, and has charged city manager Brian Muenger with lobbying DOT to make the change.
Traffic control at that intersection “is our overriding concern right now,” Muenger said. “I don’t know what the process is for the Department of Transportation, but my understanding is that they want to open it first and then do a traffic study. But 77 North and South are pretty flush with traffic, especially when Honda and the federal prison let out in the morning and the afternoon. You have the potential there for a catastrophic accident, even if you do have signage warning drivers about the new stop signs beforehand. You need to keep in mind the implications of the Plant Road and 275 intersection. You have many fatalities and a lot of major wrecks there even with good line of sight. You can see half a mile either way, and it’s still a problem.”
During a recent City Council meeting, Councilman Donnie Miller publicly wondered how many motorists would be killed at that intersection before the traffic study is complete.
Muenger is continuing to lobby the state, and said police have been video taping traffic on 77 near the new intersection for the past few weeks. “If it does go forward, we’ll have all the information we need,” he said.
The possibility of putting in an overpass would have to be directly addressed by DOT, he said, but doubts it would be feasible.
“Even putting up a traffic signal is expensive, and putting in an overpass would, I expect, take you back to the drawing board. It would be extremely costly to build after a major engineering effort. A while back we looked at doing a flyover for the railroad tracks on East Street. For us to get it high enough for the train to pass underneath, we’d have needed to start the ramp at the Woodruff and Love law office. It just wouldn’t work for us.”
While the city is concerned about that intersection, Muenger said, the overall impact of completing the circle around the city will be positive.
“I would certainly anticipate a redirection of the traffic on Battle Street, with the 18-wheelers taken out of the equation, and that significant reduction is certainly positive. It will make the streets more pedestrian friendly, and local traffic will not change much except that it will probably flow better without the big trucks.”
The bypass has also been touted as an opportunity for economic development, although not before hitting a speed bump early on.
“The zoning plan we have in place now covers development out there,” Muenger said. “People have lots of qualms when you’re talking about land that may have been in the family for generations. The first zoning was rejected, so we made some compromises, put in some buffer zones. We’ve got more than adequate space for development now, and the residents are also taken care of. You have to separate different aspects of the community with buffer zones, and everything will go well. That’s why you have zoning.”
The compromises with residents came about through a series of public hearings and discussions, and a concerted effort to contact everyone with a stake. “We had a lot of people at first that were curious, but that dropped off and there were maybe six or eight people that were at every meeting.”
Taking the trucks off Battle Street will improve traffic flow in town, which should be a benefit to existing businesses as well.
“Again, when you get the big trucks off Battle Street and off the square, it’s going to make those businesses more accessible, and it’s going to make it a lot easier for people to get from point A to point B,” Muenger said.