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School board adds to U.S. 431 conversation

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Members of Calhoun County’s school board considered weighing into the discussion about traffic safety along U.S. 431 at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

Former board member Kenneth Tidwell asked the school board to send a letter to the Alabama Department of Transportation to request another look at the department’s proposal to alter access to the highway. 

“It’s a disaster,” Tidwell told the board. 

Alexandria residents have long complained of hazardous conditions along the four-lane highway, which connects Anniston and Gadsden. Alexandria’s growth has added traffic to the road, and local lawmakers passed a resolution urging ALDOT to lower the speed limit along the highway.

ALDOT responded with a different plan, one that has displeased many living in neighborhoods off that stretch of U.S. 431.

“I think it needs to be looked at a little closer,” said school board president Tobi Burt. “They do have some good ideas. Some of it I agree with, and, the more I think about it, some of it I don’t.”

The ALDOT plan involves removing the intersections that allow drivers to cross U.S. 431 in its entirety and replacing them with left-in lanes, requiring drivers to make U-turns instead of crossing the four-lane highway. 

“With that, my children are going to have to come up the road and get into the left lane to make a U-turn,” Burt said. 

While inconvenient, the U-turns won’t be problematic for the average driver, but the story may be different for school buses and 18-wheelers. If those vehicles can’t make it through the left-in lane, drivers will be required to continue on until the next available opportunity to turn around — which Burt worries will push more traffic toward the schools.

“It’s going to cause more problems in other spots. It’s going to cause congestion at the other red lights,” Burt said. “It’s going to divert more traffic toward our schools, which is just going to cause more problems.”

Burt recommended that anybody dissatisfied with this plan should write to ALDOT. Tidwell would like for the board to help out with that by writing a letter itself. In addition to writing to ALDOT, Tidwell has his own suggestions. One being the addition of more red lights to combat another issue on U.S. 431— speed. 

“If you leave this red light down here, and you know there’s another one up there, common sense says you won’t go as fast,” Tidwell said.

According to Burt and Tidwell, Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said some of his officers have written tickets for over 90 mph —  even one as high as 98 mph. The speed limit on the majority of that highway is 65 mph.

“The major factor is we have to do something to slow these people down,” Burt said.

While Tidwell, Burt, and other board members agree that U.S. 431 is dangerous and needs to be addressed for the safety of all drivers, they aren’t completely confident in ALDOT’s current plan.

“I think it needs to be looked at a little bit longer and harder,” Burt said. “There needs to be more long-term discussion about it.”

According to board vice president Debbie Hess, there will be another transportation meeting discussing the plans for U.S. 431. The date is not known at this time.

“It is comforting knowing that they are still going to be considering some things,” Burt said.

Financial discussion

While most of Tuesday’s board meeting revolved around the U.S. 431 issue, it also consisted of financial matters. 

On the July 31 paycheck, state employees will be receiving refunds from PEEHIP if they had active PEEHIP contracts and paid premiums on their health insurance between October 1, 2016 and April 30, 2018. Members who retired prior to October 1, 2016 and deceased members are included in this refund and will receive direct payment from PEEHIP.

The total refund amount for Calhoun County’s board of education is $886,155. FICA taxes are included in the refund.

New hires

The board entered an executive session after what was listed on the agenda as “personnel decision 8,” naming a football coach at White Plains High School, did not receive a motion to vote. After returning from the executive session, Burt said they “did not have enough people present to get that decision to a vote.”

Though two new hires were decided on and announced — Jeremy Wallace as assistant principal at Pleasant Valley High School and Courtney Wilburn as deputy superintendent. 

Other items voted on and approved:

  • Dean Dairy Holdings LLC as the milk provider for the county’s Child Nutrition Program

  • Scrubs Plus as the uniform vendor for the Child Nutrition Program’s employees

  • The purchase of 25 school buses; 22 will be 72-passenger models and three will hold 48 passengers each.

  • $3,500 in financial assistance for each of five high schools sending representatives to the Future Farmers of America convention. Alexandria, Ohatchee, Pleasant Valley, Wellborn and White Plains will receive the allotment; Saks High School, Superintendent Donald Turner said, had money unused from last year.