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State mulling turn-lane changes on US 431 in Alexandria

U.S. 431 work

State officials are preparing a plan to rework the intersection of U.S. 431. (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Nearly a year after Alexandria residents petitioned lawmakers for a lower speed limit on U.S. 431, the state highway department is considering changes to one of the road’s busiest intersections.

The Alabama Department of Transportation is drafting a plan to add turn lanes where U.S. 431 meets Alabama 144, one of the busiest commercial areas in the burgeoning rural community.

“Basically, we’re looking at improving safety there as much as we can,” said Shannon Jones, district manager for ALDOT.

Alexandria is one of the county’s unincorporated communities. Not far from U.S. 431, houses and small businesses cluster near the rural community’s schools in what could pass for a Main Street. Shops in strip malls line the highway, like the business district of a small city. The corners of the U.S. 431/Alabama 144 intersection hold a bank, a sizable gas station and a shopping center anchored by a Foodland grocery store.

The speed limit there is 65 mph.That’s too high for some local residents, who say speed is the prime culprit in wrecks along the road. In January, Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, proposed a resolution in the state House of Representatives urging state officials to change the speed limit; that petition followed a petition to lawmakers, signed by 150 Alexandria residents.

When The Anniston Star asked Wood about the status of the proposed speed limit change this week, he said ALDOT was still studying it — but was in discussions with local officials about bigger changes to make the intersection safer.

“It’s just like anything else,” he said. “It’s a slow process.”

Jones confirmed that the state has been drawing up a plan for the intersection, with the intent of releasing it and soliciting public comment in January. Among the changes, he said, would be alterations to “crossovers,” the paved spots in the median where drivers can turn left before the stoplight.

Right now, those crossovers are little bigger than parking spaces, just big enough to hold one car waiting to turn. Jones said the proposed changes would leave the intersection with fewer crossovers, though the crossovers that remain will have genuine turning lanes.

Other turning lane changes could be made with an eye toward making access to businesses simpler than it is now.

“There are a lot of access points there,” he noted.

Jones said he wasn’t sure if a speed limit change is actually in the works, yet that seems to still be on the minds of some who regularly use the highway.

“We hear wrecks all the time at the light here,” said Alexandria resident Megan Prichard. She said she’s near the intersection often because her relatives own Foodland and the restaurant called Crave in the Foodland shopping center.

Jones said changes similar to the proposed Alexandria change are already underway where U.S. 431 meets Alabama 204 in Wellington. On Friday, cones still surrounded a freshly paved crossover turn lane just south of the intersection. Jones said the highway would be widened to allow more turn lanes, with work moving on as weather permits.

He said ALDOT officials hoped to begin work on the Alexandria intersection in the 2020 fiscal year, which means it could begin as early as the autumn of next year.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.