City officials are focusing on enforcement rather than lowering the speed limit on Point Mallard Parkway, which has been the site of several fatal wrecks.
The most recent fatal wreck on the 4-mile state road connecting Interstate 65 with U.S. 31 was June 25, just west of Refuge Headquarters Road. The wreck remains under investigation. At least four deaths resulted from collisions on Point Mallard Parkway last year.
“It’s been a priority for me since I came into office,” said Mayor Tab Bowling, who said he discussed the issue with Police Chief Nate Allen last week. But, “it’s a tough (road) to manage because of the (Wheeler National Wildlife) refuge and available right of way.
“Enforcement is one of the best ways to change habits and improve safety. Reducing speed limits without enforcement is without value.”
And, he said, it’s a challenging roadway to enforce.
“Depending on the direction (a vehicle is heading), you don’t want to pull someone over on the causeway,” he said. “It’s not safe.”
Based on a speed study last year, the Alabama Department of Transportation recommended the city reduce the speed limit between Sixth Avenue and Interstate 65 to 45 mph. That would lower the speed limit between Country Club Road and the Publix-anchored Point Mallard Centre from 55 to 45 mph.
When asked if police enforcement would be stepped up on the road, Allen would only say, “We will continue our enforcement efforts in that area.”
Point Mallard Parkway is “heavily traveled and the speed limit is pretty moderate, and you’re going to have collisions there,” Allen said.
Council President Paige Bibbee said existing enforcement of the speed limit is working.
“Enforcement is key, and I think our police department is doing a good job of enforcement,” said Bibbee, whose district includes the road and who travels that road six or seven times a day. She has also noticed state troopers with radar out on the road.
“I don’t think you can ever take away every hazard,” Bibbee said.
But she said she could support lowering the speed limit in front of Point Mallard Centre — to 40 or 45 mph — because of the volume of traffic entering and exiting that location.
“Personally I think 55 is an appropriate speed” for the middle segment of the road through the refuge, she said.
ALDOT's recommendation was discussed at a council meeting a year ago, but Bibbee said the council “hasn’t been petitioned at all” about the issue.
“If something needs to be changed, no one reached out personally or by phone (to the council) to advocate for that change,” she said.
Point Mallard Parkway is a state road, Bibbee said, and “they (ALDOT) could change (the speed limits) without us.”
ALDOT spokesman Seth Burkett said recently: "We generally will not lower a speed limit within city limits unless the city is in agreement and passes an ordinance reflecting the new speed limit. Whether changing the speed limit would actually reduce speeds would depend largely on enforcement by the city."
Councilman Charles Kirby said there are times he’s driven on Point Mallard Parkway, adhering to the speed limits, and been passed by drivers “like I’m standing still."
“I am certainly in favor of lowering the speed limit,” he said. “But I want to hear what our traffic professionals and police recommend."
“It’s not about making money,” Kirby said, adding that most revenue from traffic citations goes to the court system. “It’s all about safety,” he said.
Making safety improvements to the road has been debated, but ALDOT officials have said there are limits to what can be done.
North Division Engineer Curtis Vincent, in a letter to Bowling early this year, said the installation of a barrier on the road would require U-turns which could not be accommodated for truck traffic with the existing roadway.
Also, the right-of-way acquisition of refuge land could be difficult and would possibly prevent the construction of necessary U-turns, according to Vincent.
He said a median barrier should only be used when there is an indication of excessive median crossover crashes, and a Tuscumbia-area traffic engineer's survey — from 2012 to 2016 — indicted a “very low overall crash rate” compared to highways similar to Point Mallard Parkway.
“A barrier is not recommended as a viable countermeasure,” Vincent wrote.
Commenting on the use of rumble strips, Vincent said those were installed on a resurfacing project in 2012 on Point Mallard Parkway at Country Club Road but were soon removed “due to complaints.”
Further, Vincent said in the letter, a substantial portion of the segment of the road through the refuge has center or left-turn auxiliary lanes, and rumble strips are not desirable for that situation. He said the department isn’t currently using rumble strips on the centerline of undivided highways.
Councilman Chuck Ard said Point Mallard Parkway is “difficult for us to deal with because we’re bounded on both sides by water.”
There are efforts underway to try to improve intersections in the area, he said.
The Decatur-area Metropolitan Planning Organization is putting up $80,000, or 80 percent of the cost of a study to look into improving Alabama 67 intersections between Upper River Road in Decatur and Bethel Road in Priceville, as well as a potential interchange at Upper River Road and I-65.
As for speed limit changes, Ard said, “I think people will drive the way they’re used to driving.”