County Commission questioned by accident victim’s spouse about conditions on County Road 222

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Julian Morris, left, talks with County Engineer John Lang after Tuesday morning's commission meeting. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN – County Road 222 has become infamous for the number of wrecks that happen on it. Several deaths and even more injuries have taken place in the past few years, and a member of the audience at the Cullman County Commission meeting Tuesday morning wanted to make sure the commissioners knew the danger and would take steps to help solve the problems.

On June 5, 2016, Julian Morris lost his wife Veronica in a two-vehicle collision on County Road 222 near Big Bridge, a stretch of road that has been the scene of numerous incidents, as recently as last week.  On Tuesday morning, Morris stood before the commission to plead for improvements to make that area safer.

Morris was not on the agenda for the commission’s regular meeting, but he rose to speak when the floor was opened for public comment.  After introducing himself, he began to explain his view on road conditions at Big Bridge and the mounting number of accidents.

“It happens too often,” Morris said.  “On the other end of the bridge, the south end maybe a mile up the road, they’ve got a bad curve and road signs and guardrails.  On this end there’s nothing.  My questioning is, it’s not banked properly, I think.  I wondered if there’s anything that can be done by the commission to solve that problem.  There’s just too many wrecks.

“In the accident report when (Veronica Morris) died, the trooper stated that the speed limit was 55.  It’s not 55, and he based it on the fact that the nearest sign is 55, which is wrong.  In other words, the road signs are not right.  The speed limit is obviously too fast to have this happen.

“All the cases are traveling towards Big Bridge from the west, but they wind up on the shoulder on the left.  My wife left the road completely coming up that hill and hit the shoulder, and the kid slid into her and they went into the wall, and killed her.  My whole point is, it seems to be the banking on the curve.  They should go to the right if they slide out, but they’re going to the left. 

“Every time it gets a little bitty drizzle, we’re going to have wrecks.  It’s time to do something about it.”

Morris’ comments on Big Bridge may not have been planned, but it came as no surprise to commissioners that such questions would be raised.  The commission had received a report on that very area from County Engineer John Lang during its work session that morning, so Chairman Kenneth Walker deferred to him for a response to Morris’ request.

Lang stated, “At 222, I was out there yesterday and checked a few cross slopes, and worked up an estimate to do some slope correction for the roadway. 

“We’ve got two different things coming in play.  We’re going to have a federal aid project on the marina end that’s going to come right up to the marina prior to the bridge where County Road 96 is.  As a part of that, we will be addressing those curves on that side, and we’ll be able to get those sloped more appropriately.  And on the other side of the road it won’t be a federal aid project, but I’ve worked up estimates and sent them to (the commissioners) about what we could do, and some potential solutions. 

“The thing that will happen soonest will be that we’re going to put some signs up, because we do know that that’s been a problem area.  We’ll put some advanced warning signs up, along with some advisory speeds.  We ought to be able to get that done in the next week or two.

“We’re still evaluating what we’re going to do when, because there are a few options, and they’re all varying in cost and scope of what we’re going to firmly settle on; but I can tell you that it is our intent to get something done with that stretch of road, so we can help with the accident situation, because we know it’s bad.  We’ve had a lot of people make us aware of it.”

After Lang’s statements, Morris continued with concerns about how heavily traveled that road is, and how congested it becomes when an incident occurs.  At the time of his wife’s accident, according to Morris, “That road was shut down for three hours.  My wife laid on the ground in the rain for three hours, waiting on the trooper from Florence to come to investigate the wreck.  That road was shut down for three hours; they had to go all the way back up to Good Hope to get on the interstate to go either direction.  My point is, it’s a well-traveled road, it’s too much traffic, and it’s just going to be worse than it is now.  It’s getting that way.  I hope that you can get something done about it.”

Walker drew the discussion to a close by offering Morris the assurance, “We are very aware of it, and we are working on it.”

After the meeting, Morris shared with The Tribune an additional concern about road conditions around Smith Lake, “They got liquor passed, too, so they’re going to be selling beer and drinks at the marina down there.  I know you’re not supposed to leave with a cup, and all that kind of stuff, but it’s just going to get worse and worse.  Something needs to be done about it.”

Also following the meeting, The Tribune caught up with Lang, who gave more detail about the County’s plans for improvement:

On the south side of Big Bridge: “With the federal aid project that we’ve got coming, that will go all the way from the four-way stop there at (CR) 109 to right just before we get to Big Bridge Marina.  That project will address those sets of curves right before you get to the marina, which is also a problem area.

The County hopes to begin work on that project in spring 2018.

On the north side of Big Bridge, site of more accidents: “On the other side of Big Bridge, where the curves are more direct, that’s where we’re not firm.  What we do know is that we’re going to do something to address the wrecks: either a slope correction with asphalt or skid resistance material, in addition to warning signs. 

“People travel really fast through there.  I was out there yesterday and about got run over; I was dancing in and out of traffic.  Signs’ degree of effectiveness can be limited, but we’re going to sign it better, for sure.  In addition to that, we’re going to be doing some sort of construction to address the skid resistance.  We haven’t firmed up the details of that yet, but I put a proposal before the commissioners yesterday and we’re just kind of mulling that out now.”

Other commission business

Under new business, the commission authorized County Attorney Chad Floyd to file a civil lawsuit against a business for failure to pay their sales and use tax, then authorized chairman Kenneth Walker to sign a deed in favor of David and Shirley Hays for an easement to help access their land-locked property. The commission approved a software purchase from Harris Local Government, the cost of which will be split between two budget periods, and voted to give $5000 to the Oktoberfest Committee for this year's festival.

The commission voted to spend almost $13,000 to repair the tar distributor for their chip sealing rods, then voted to list the following surplus on GovDeals: a 1993 Ford cab tractor with front broom attachment from the County Road Department, a 1999 International 4700 fuel truck from the Road Department, and a 2004 Dodge Durango from the County Coroner's Office. They then approved a plat of six lots for the Jayce's Place subdivision on County Roads 1564 and 1589.

The final orders of business before adjourning were three bids for extensions, all of which were approved: jail supplies from North Alabama Chemical & Central Paper, lawn care from Pro Lawn Unlimited, and pest control from American Pest Control.

The next commission meeting will be Tuesday, July 25 at 10 a.m. in the commission meeting room in the Cullman County Courthouse.  The public is invited to attend.

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