While a concrete median could be a future remedy, the Alabama Department of Transportation is taking other more immediate steps, including signage, to improve the safety of Point Mallard Parkway.
Two fatal wrecks this summer within 36 days of each other on Point Mallard Parkway/Alabama 67 prompted state and local officials to meet recently to discuss the highway’s safety.
The most recent wreck was July 31 when a Decatur woman was killed in a head-on collision. Decatur police said the vehicle hydroplaned on the wet road, which was a contributing factor in the wreck.
ALDOT spokesman Seth Burkett said Thursday there’s a lot involved in adding a concrete median to separate the lanes, but the agency is working on this as a possible option.
“Just adding a concrete median is a costly measure,” Burkett said.
He pointed out that some parts of the highway widen to five lanes and wouldn’t need a barrier. The main area of concern is between County Club Road and Upper River Road, where the four lanes are divided only by a double yellow line. According to 2017 ALDOT traffic data, about 28,000 vehicles per day travel this portion of the highway.
The state may need to widen the road to add a barrier in some areas and most of it is likely in the middle of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Burkett said.
“It would be more complicated if we have to obtain right of way because that’s federal land,” Burkett said.
While they study ways to add a barrier, the state is taking steps that can be implemented more quickly, he said.
Burkett said the immediate measures include delineation of the lanes with striping and pavement markers, and checking to make sure the road is draining properly.
“We will be making sure the greenery on the sides of the road is trimmed so we can reduce the potential for water to pool on the roadway,” Burkett said.
Burkett said the state is still investigating underlying factors involved in the fatal crashes.
“Obviously, we believe speed is a major factor on this route,” Burkett said.
The Decatur Police Department increased speed enforcement after the July 31 wreck. The department also put up message boards warning drivers that they need to slow down.
The state put out radar signs that flash a vehicle’s speed and warn drivers that they are passing the 55 mph speed limit.
“The effect of those devices coupled with law enforcement is we are seeing some impact there,” Burkett said. “The big thing is getting it in the minds of motorists to check their speed, slow down and be aware that, not only is there a risk of crashes, but there is a penalty or a fine for driving at excess speed.”
Burkett said drivers should also remember that they should reduce their speed when the road is wet.
The state wanted to lower the speed limit last year to 45 mph but Decatur officials objected and ALDOT backed off. However, Burkett said the state is looking at speed limits again.
Priceville Mayor Melvin Duran said he thinks “55 mph is a good speed limit” on Point Mallard Parkway.
“We’ve got bumper-to-bumper traffic right now,” Duran said. “You get it too slow, it will surely back things up. If everybody drives 55 mph, we would be all right.”
Duran said he believes the combination of the speed limit signs and increased traffic control will be effective.
“We may have a wreck in the next few minutes, but I think we are making headway,” Duran said. “That big sign at Publix (warning drivers to slow down) gets people’s attention.”
Decatur City Council President Paige Bibbee said she likes the steps the state is taking.
“I’ve seen a drastic decrease in the speeds through that area,” she said. “Hopefully, we’re getting people’s attention.”