SR-117 Issues

Immediate Safety Issues

A Diversity of Principles and Interests

The Code of Alabama 1975, Section 32-5A-171(1):  "No person shall operate a vehicle in excess of 30 miles per hour in any urban district."

Mentone's Mayor and Town Council:  "We request that the speed limit through Mentone be 35 MPH."

Johnny L. Harris, Division Engineer of the Guntersville office of the Alabama Department of Transportation:  "The speed limit on SR-117 inside of the town limits of Mentone is 45 miles per hour and will not be lowered, not even at the dangerous curve southeast of the existing bridge."  (However, according to The Times-Journal of Fort Payne, Harris might lower the speed limit to 35 miles per hour after the wider and safer bridge being planned has been constructed.)

D. Joseph McInnes, Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation:   "Governor Bob Riley has set three priorities for state transportation projects: that they first address safety, that they address real need instead of want, and that, when possible, they promote industrial development.  There is a demonstrated need here, and it is definitely a matter of safety.  However, the problem of speeding trucks falls to local law enforcement and the Department of Public Safety."

Rob Hammond, Mayor of Mentone, can be reached at 256-634-4444 or 256-634-4066 for his opinions and ideas on the issues, especially what he thinks about McInnes' contention that Mentone is responsible for the speeding trucks.  ALDOT's speed limit for the northwestern half of the road through Mentone is 35 mph, while it is 45 mph for the part of the road near the bridge and camps and church and library and school.  If the speed limit were 35 mph everywhere, the accidents on the curve southeast of the bridge might have been avoided, but sixteen seconds would have been added to the driving time for 18-wheelers through town.

The Lookout Mountain Heritage Association (LMHA) is collecting signatures on a petition to ALDOT pleading that the speed limit be lowered to 35 mph on SR-117 inside the town limits of Mentone.

If ALDOT lowers the speed limit, the focus will then be on the Town of Mentone which will then have to ENFORCE THE LOWER SPEED LIMIT.  This is a serious responsibility!  The Town of Mentone might even be held liable for damages suffered by someone injured in an accident, if any of its managers fails to support its public safety officers in issuing citations to speeders.

Simple and Immediate Solutions

It will be at least a year (and possibly much longer) before the proposed new bridge is constructed.  In the meantime, the recent accident at the southeastern end of the bridge (together with a long history of similar accidents) indicates a serious need for immediately addressing the safety problem.

The obvious solution, which is also straightforward and relatively inexpensive and can be quickly implemented, is to simply fix the blind curve on the approach to the existing bridge from the southeast.  The bushes and trees blocking sight of the bridge need to be removed and the dangerous curve needs to be straightened.  There are letters from witnesses indicating that the curve, and not the bridge, has been the cause of the accidents.  The curve could easily be straightened as shown below.

Fixing the curve and lowering and enforcing the speed limit near the bridge would probably completely solve the safety problems.  Even if a new bridge is planned to be eventually constructed, these simple improvements should certainly be implemented in the meantime to possibly save lives.

Another solution, somewhat more elaborate, is to change the existing bridge to having alternating one-way traffic, as is indicated in the photograph below.  This plan has an important additional advantage of discouraging heavy truck traffic.

Each traffic light would be seen only by vehicles approaching the bridge.  Between the lights, traffic would be one-way and the direction would be determined by the lights which would have an intelligent controller.  If no vehicles were approaching the bridge, both lights would be red.  As soon as one of the lights detected an approaching vehicle, it would turn green and the other light would stay red until the vehicle crossing the bridge reached it.

With the traffic on the bridge one-way, there would now be room for pedestrians.  A concrete barrier could be erected to protect people walking across the bridge from vehicles, as shown in the close-up of the bridge below.

Addressing these vital safety concerns is long overdue.  Changes such as those described here would make highway travel through Mentone much safer.  Furthermore, the reduction in the speed and resulting reduction in noise from vehicles in the area would make life a much more pleasant experience, both for community residents and for the young campers at nearby Skyline Camp.

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