Limited paving work could begin in August or September on Cheaha Road — a narrow, winding lane near Cheaha State Park — a lawmaker said Friday. But the bigger problem with the road remains.
Used by residents of Talladega and Cleburne counties for decades, the road isn’t regularly maintained by any local government, because there’s no agreement about who owns it.
“It’s just totally, totally wrong,” said state Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford. “We’ve got to get it fixed.”
Hurst in recent weeks has been hearing increasing local complaints about Cheaha Road, a rural road that starts in Munford near Camp Mac and winds its way upward into Cheaha State Park. According to Hurst, the road dates back to the Great Depression, when the Civilian Conservation Corps was doing public works projects in the area, though it’s unclear which government has responsibility for the road today.
“Nobody wants to own this road,” said Tammy Power, who retired earlier this year as supervisor of Cheaha State Park and still lives nearby. “Because nobody wants to own it, nobody’s maintaining it.”
Power and other local residents say they’ve seen plenty of problems arising from the “orphan” road. Untrimmed trees on the roadside make it hard to see what’s coming around each curve, they say. It’s narrow enough to be nearly a one-lane road, and newcomers to the area often drive right down the middle. Mistakes on the road aren’t easily forgiven, with steep drop-offs in some places.
Public pressure over the road stepped up after the July 19 death of Jodi Polarie, 50, a Cropwell woman who ran off the road in her 2005 Chevy Trailblazer. Local residents say they don’t know what role the condition of the road itself played in the crash, but they say they’ve been worried about the potential of a fatal wreck for a long time.
“There are fire departments that will have to put their own lives at risk to work a wreck out there,” Power said.
School buses use the road twice daily during the school year, and local residents tell of a recent encounter in which a school bus met a logging truck coming the other way. The bus and truck were able to pass each other, local residents say, but only after drivers negotiated a solution and carefully worked to inch their vehicles past each other.
Hurst said he’s heard of nearby residents removing downed trees from the road on their own, or bushhogging the roadside.
“A bunch of people have lost tires because of the condition of the road. They’ve lost side mirrors,” local resident Wayne Lackey said.
Despite the current concern, problems with the road are not new. Hurst said the issue was on his agenda when he became a Talladega County commissioner in 1985. Then, as now, local governments and the state were reluctant to claim it as their own.
“This is the problem: It crosses five times through three counties,” he said. Calhoun, Cleburne and Talladega counties meet in the area where the road lies.
Power earlier this year wrote to Gov. Kay Ivey asking for a solution to the problem. She got a letter back from Alabama Department of Transportation representative DeJarvis Leonard stating that “we have conducted research and concluded that the route is not our route and not the maintenance responsibility of ALDOT.” Attempts to reach Leonard for further comment this week were unsuccessful.
Hurst said he’s tried more than once to pass bills that would give ALDOT responsibility for the road, though none of those efforts have passed. He said he did get a $200,000 set-aside in a recent state budget for maintenance of the road, and he persuaded Talladega County officials to undertake the work.
Hurst said around $50,000 of brush-trimming and other work has already been done. He said he expects to see around $140,000 worth of paving begin some time in August or September, if weather permits.
Hurst said he doesn’t know how far the money will go, but it’s a start. Local residents remain frustrated with the slow pace of a solution.
“I do not dislike Steve at all, but it’s always, ‘We’re working on it,’” Lackey said.
Hurst said the road’s problems won’t really be cleared up until one government is assigned to take care of it.
“I’m not going to give up, and I’m not going to be done until we get the paving done and get the ownership of it taken care of,” he said.