Decatur and state officials will meet next week on Point Mallard Parkway safety, and Mayor Tab Bowling suggested Thursday adding concrete barriers and porous pavement to the highway after two fatal wrecks there in 36 days.
Meanwhile, Decatur police listed a hydroplaning vehicle as the cause of Wednesday’s fatal accident. In a written release, police spokeswoman Emily Long said Malloree Teague, 27, was going southeast on the parkway (Alabama 67) at 10:53 a.m. Wednesday when her 2019 red Dodge Challenger began to hydroplane on the rain-slick road. The police said Teague’s vehicle crossed into the northbound lane, hit a white Infinity SUV on the driver’s side and collided with a Morgan County District 1 utility pickup.
Morgan County Coroner Jeff Chunn pronounced Teague dead at Decatur Morgan Hospital about noon Wednesday. He listed her hometown as Decatur.
Wayne Miller, the driver of the county vehicle, suffered injuries to a hand and ankle, according to shop foreman and supervisor Carl Blankenship. The driver of the Infinity SUV, a male, was apparently uninjured.
On June 25, a Somerville woman was killed in a five-vehicle accident on the same stretch of highway near the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. In 2018, four people lost their lives in traffic accidents on the parkway.
City Council President Paige Bibbee and Bowling said officials with the Alabama Department of Transportation will meet with city leaders midweek.
“I hope ALDOT will bring a solution to the table,” Bibbee said. “They’re the experts. It’s their roadway.”
ALDOT spokesman Seth Burkett said his agency is open to exploring options to improve the safety of the roadway.
"We need to gather more information, learn more about what's happening and why so that we can find the real solution," he said.
Both Bowling and Bibbee had their own ideas.
Bowling said he wants to see the 3-mile stretch of Point Mallard Parkway between Country Club Road Southeast and Upper River Road Southeast resurfaced with a porous asphalt surface called open section course.
In the short term, Bowling said, “We’ll listen to ALDOT, ask to get the road resurfaced with open course and add warning signs and lights.”
He said rain and oil will soak into the road material and not puddle on top. He said the open course surface might have prevented the hydroplaning related to Wednesday’s accident.
He said the city has used the porous surface on a hilly and winding stretch of Danville Road Southwest between Chapel Hill Road and Katie Drive.
“It has significantly reduced the number of accidents in that area,” he said.
He said Huntsville has the surface on Big Cove Road and Monte Sano Drive, which have been accident-prone areas.
Bowling said resurfacing one lane for 1 mile with the porous asphalt would cost about $120,000 compared to $60,000 with regular asphalt. The surfacing work falls on state and federal departments. Bowling said the city's responsibilities on Point Mallard Parkway are limited to maintenance, such as trimming weeds and removing road debris, dead animals and political or yard sale signs.
As a longer-term solution to making Point Mallard Parkway safer, Bowling recommends adjusting the right-of-way to widen the parkway 3 to 5 feet and installing concrete barriers similar to the ones dividing northbound and southbound lanes on the Tennessee River causeway on U.S. 31 and along Interstate 565.
“It’s going to require cooperation and like-minded effort with the leadership at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge,” he said. “We’re thankful we have a good working relationship with them.”
Bibbee said she saw a Decatur police officer on Point Mallard Parkway Thursday morning dedicated to monitoring the traffic to curtail speeding.
“It’s too bad Chief (Nate) Allen has to take a patrol officer running radar on that road when they could be doing something else, but that is what needs to be done immediately,” she said. “I saw police and the sheriff’s department out there this morning writing tickets.
"Speeders are the No. 1 thing. When an individual gets behind the wheel, we can’t control their behavior. I certainly don’t want Decatur to be looked at as a speed trap, but we may have to get in their pocketbook to get their attention.”
Bibbee wasn’t keen on Bowling’s idea of installing concrete barriers and said ALDOT’s attempts in past years to get the federal government to budge on permitting expansion of the right of way have been unsuccessful.
“Concrete barriers will cause more accidents,” she said. “You’ll be pinballing the traffic once a car hits the concrete barrier. I don’t like them on the causeway either. They were installed before I took office. I prefer the cables like you see on the interstate (median). They don’t make you feel like you are in a stall.”
Burkett said the parkway presently sees about 28,000 vehicles a day. Bowling predicts that traffic flow number will soar once Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA gets closer to opening a large plant in Limestone County in 2021.
“Traffic will only increase with Mazda Toyota bringing growth to Decatur,” he said. “Motorists will travel that road coming in from I-65 to do business at the courthouse, eat at our restaurants and visit the museum.”
ALDOT conducted a speed test on Point Mallard Parkway last year at the city's request and recommended the city reduce the speed limit between Sixth Avenue and I-65 to 45 mph. This would have reduced the speed limit between Country Club Road and the Publix-anchored Point Mallard Centre from 55 to 45 mph.
City officials opposed the move, although Allen suggested dropping the speed limit between Country Club Road and Indian Hills Road to 50 mph.
Bowling said the fatal accidents are related to more than just speed.
"The recent events have clearly exposed issues," he said. "There's not one solution. We need to look at speed, road surface, median and right-of-way acquisition. Those require a team effort with Wheeler Wildlife Refuge and ALDOT."