Council declines to overturn truck reroute

photo-38The Demopolis City Council spent most of its Monday meeting discussing a request to rescind Resolution 2013-13, a June 6 vote that changed the U.S Highway 43 truck route. The council ultimately voted 4-2 against changing the resolution.

Under the June 6 vote, the route, which currently includes Walnut Avenue, Capital Street and South Cedar Avenue would shift to its former location that utilized Fulton Street to connect Walnut Avenue to South Cedar.

Aliquippa Allen approached the council Monday as the representative of a contingent seeking to overturn Resolution 2013-13.

“I stand before you representing about 350 folks who signed a position,” Allen opened. She referenced the resolution itself as well as news reports regarding the June 6 vote as stating that the decision to make the change came at the behest of the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Allen stated she spoke with two ALDOT officials who both claimed to be unaware of the origin of the measure.

“The only thing that they’re saying that they actually have is the resolution that you all have signed,” Allen said. “Our residents actually need to know who initiated this request. Where did it come from? Was there a traffic study done by the city or was there a study done by ALDOT which actually validates the need for us to reroute this truck route?”

Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson would later attempt to ease that concern by explaining how the resolution began.

“I can tell you that it was ALDOT,” he said. “They called me on the phone and asked for that. I have no problem in telling you that it was an ALDOT request.”

A transfer truck turns left off of Walnut Street onto West Capital Street by the downtown branch of Robertson Bank. Monday's city council vote to avoid rescinding a June resolution will keep big rigs off of West Capital Street, instead forcing truck drivers to take their left turn onto Fulton Street before taking a right onto Cedar Avenue and following it to U.S. Highway 80.

A transfer truck turns left off of Walnut Street onto West Capital Street by the downtown branch of Robertson Bank. Monday’s city council vote to avoid rescinding a June resolution will keep big rigs off of West Capital Street, instead forcing truck drivers to take their left turn onto Fulton Street before taking a right onto Cedar Avenue and following it to U.S. Highway 80.

The majority of the discourse focused on two key issues, one of which revolved around the inherent safety concerns of the Fulton Street route while the other focused on the manner in which the resolution passed.

“Has a proposal been submitted to the board of adjustments to rezone? Has there been a public hearing? Was a notification sent by mail to each of the residences that would be affected and was it done at least 15 days prior to the hearing,” Allen asked of the process leading up to the June 6 resolution. “The area between Cedar and Fulton is actually zoned as R3 for medium residential area. We’re asking you to withdraw this resolution. We’re asking you, one, because it is not zoned for heavy traffic.”

“As you know, from what I understand, for 30-plus years the truck route was down that way,” Grayson replied. “In 2008-2009, it was changed to the route from Cedar to Capital onto Walnut. It was changed at that time because it was churning the street on Fulton Street and it was viewed as a cost-saving move. To my knowledge, there was not a public hearing at that time, there was not a public hearing to move it to South Cedar and Capital.”

Allen also referenced the population of residents along Fulton Street as well as the layout of the street itself as being inadequate for the truck route.

“The city council has voted to actually put its most vulnerable population in harm’s way: children, the elderly and the disabled. This is not something, truly, that is in the best interest of this community,” Allen said. “I don’t think any one of you would actually vote to have a truck route in your neighborhood. A vulnerable population such as what exists in that particular area, in all good consciousness, we cannot do that to our people”

While Allen highlighted the safety concerns of putting the route back down Fulton Street, Grayson and others cited the safety concerns of keeping through what is considered a high-traffic intersection at Walnut and Capital.

“Since 2008, at this intersection right here, we’ve had 22 accidents at that intersection. Three of them involved 18-wheelers,” Grayson said of a report done by Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese. “He also checked the old truck route at Fulton and Cedar and there were no accidents.”

“We didn’t have the housing projects over there at that time either,” Allen retorted. “We have to look at the time period we actually studied.”

Robertson Banking Company President Al Garrett later approached the council with insights of his own. Garrett referenced the number of times RBC employees cross Capital Street on foot each day as cause for concern.

“When the route was changed to where it is now, the bank tried to protest just because of the safety issues. Needless to say, we were certainly glad to hear there was a possibility of changing the route back to where it was,” Garrett said. “There are 44 employees that work in the building across the street. That could be as many as 176 times a day employees are walking to that north parking lot. The reason employees are parking over there is so the back parking lot would be reserved for customers. We actually did have one employee that was bumped by a vehicle resulting in some stitches to her head and then we had another one that was almost hit.”

Garrett also referenced the position of the bank’s drive-thru window and drive-up ATM on the north side of the building adjacent to Capital Street as potentially contributing further to the traffic hazards of the intersection.

“As you know, our drive up window is there on the north side. There is also a drive up ATM there. Last month, there were 2,848 transactions in that window,” Garrett said. “You can imagine how many cars are trying to come in and out of that intersection there with that heavy traffic. Those are the reasons that we were in favor of having it moved back.”

“We can pull out the data that you want to have, but the question is will the city council comply with the ordinances that are in place? Everything else, it doesn’t matter,” Allen added. “If we’re going to move this city ahead, we’re going to have to be in compliance with the laws that have been put in place.”

Following the discussion, Councilman Charles Jones ultimately made the motion to rescind the resolution and consider the issue further.

“I would like a motion that we rescind the resolution and give it a little bit more thought and hear from all parties that are involved,” Jones said. Councilman Nathan Hardy seconded the motion. The motion failed with only Jones and Hardy in support of the matter.

“I agree with what Mrs. Allen said about us doing it by the ordinances,” Councilman Bill Meador said after explaining that he would like to review city ordinances before voting to overturn the resolution. “I will say that we need to look into it further so that our residents don’t feel like they’ve been steamrolled.”

Jones later added that should the Fulton Street route stand, the city should consider looking into funding to help make the area more safe for residents.