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October 24, 2014

108 accidents on bypass in 20 months

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Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 5:12 pm

TALLADEGA -- The 275 Bypass around Talladega, after years of delay, was finally completed in 2012, and was officially opened after Thanksgiving of that year. It has been pretty successful in its goal of taking heavy truck traffic out of downtown and streamlining traffic through Talladega, but these benefits have come at a price.

Capt. Leon Thomas of the Talladega Police Department has been tracking accident reports on the 275 Bypass since the new portion opened on Nov. 28, 2012.

Between that date and Friday, there had been 108 accidents on this stretch of road in 20 months. Many involved only one vehicle and many more did not result in any serious injury, but dozens of people have suffered injuries of varying degrees, including at least three that might be considered life-threatening. One woman lost an arm after being pinned under a truck carrying a 20-ton steel coil.

Four people have been killed, including a pregnant mother and her unborn child.

Thomas said he has been tracking the accidents according to which intersection they occurred nearest, with the largest number by far concentrated at the intersection with Jackson Trace Road. A total of 33 accidents have happened at that intersection, including all four fatalities.

There have been three accidents at Maine Street, five at Stockdale Road and six at Alabama 21 North. Five more were reported at Eastaboga Road and one each at Allen, Horne and Pope Streets. To date, there have been no reported accidents at the bypass and Nimitz or Thornton.

There have been 11 accidents reported at Alabama 77 North, which is controlled by a traffic signal, seven at Shocco Springs Road, nine at Old Shocco Road and a total of 19 at Renfroe Road. There have been two more near Angus Road and five that were not close to any particular intersection. These last five were largely wrecks involving only one vehicle and possibly wildlife on the road.

“When this thing was first built, the big concern was the intersection with Alabama 77,” Thomas said. The original plan called for this intersection to be a two-way stop controlled by stop signs. After many complaints from the Talladega City Council, a traffic signal was installed there instead.

“Now, the vast majority of the wrecks are on Jackson Trace and Renfroe Road,” he continued. “And the majority of those are driver error.”

It is true, he said, that long stretches of the bypass are poorly lit, and that guard rails have saved lives, and more might save more. Alcohol has been a factor in a few of the accidents, but not many.

“Especially at Jackson Trace Road, they’ll stop at the stop sign crossing the bypass, get to the median, and not stop again to check and make sure there’s no traffic coming the other way,” Thomas said. “They just fail to yield.”

One anecdotal observance is that an inordinate number of silver cars are involved in accidents on the bypass, but while flipping through the reports, Thomas said he does not see this.

“There’s a few silver ones, but you’ve got pink and green and red and white and black,” he said. “There’s been maybe three or four with silver cars, but not all that many.” 

The camera

A little over a week ago, the Alabama Department of Transportation placed a video camera at the Jackson Trace/275 Intersection, “to view the traffic paths and movement, and to see if there’s anything we can do from an engineering standpoint to improve that intersection,” ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris said.

Whatever those engineering improvements might be, Harris added, they will almost certainly not be another traffic signal.

“We did a preconstruction assessment and determined that a signal wasn’t needed there,” Harris said. “I don’t think enough has changed to allow for a signal under the federal criteria. Which I guess is kind of a roundabout way of saying no.”

Additional studies can be conducted every few years as conditions change or at the request of local government, he added.

As it is, this particular intersection is already equipped with rumble strips, oversized stop signs, fresh paint and new pavement. Based on what the camera shows, things to consider might include “improved signage and striping, and rechanneling traffic. But from what I understand, the big issue here is driver error and behavior. If people are failing to yield at the intersection or at the median, that could be better addressed from a law enforcement standpoint than an engineering standpoint,” Harris said.

Lighting is usually a shared responsibility with the city government. Harris said he was not aware of any discussion of additional lighting, but that it could be discussed.

As with any dangerous intersection, he continued, there are three aspects to consider: engineering, enforcement and education. The key in this case would seem to be making sure that drivers obey the signage and yield when they are supposed to.

“These people are violating the state law,” Harris said.

Harris said it was difficult to say at this point how long the camera will remain in place. 

“The study length varies,” he said, “until we get a good feel for our best options.”

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