Safety deserves proactive approach

Published 5:49 am Wednesday, December 11, 2002

By By BILL CRIST - Publisher
It's a shame that it often takes a tragedy to spur us to action. Especially when that tragedy could have been averted.
Anyone who has ever been on either end of the stretch of Underwood Street that runs between Belleville Avenue and St. Nicholas Street (Hwy. 41) knows the frustration of trying to negotiate those intersections. To cross at Belleville, a driver must actually travel about 50 feet before getting back onto Underwood. On the other end of the block is an intersection where drivers have to guess at the speed of oncoming vehicles which often are exceeding the 30 mile per hour speed limit by a great deal.
Last week, a Brewton resident, Willie Porterfield, was killed at the intersection of Underwood and St. Nicholas when her car was struck as she attempted to turn right onto St. Nicholas.
Although it was not the first time the issue was brought to the public's attention, Rev. H.K. Matthews addressed the Brewton City Council about the dangerous intersection at Underwood and Belleville at its meeting on Feb. 27, 2001. He said he'd been in contact with the Alabama Department of Transportation office in Evergreen, since he'd been told the state has jurisdiction over the road, but that he had not gotten any response.
Rev. Matthews followed up his initial call with a letter to ADOT, but still nothing has been done on either intersection. Following Porterfield's death, though, perhaps those two intersections will get the attention they so desperately need. At least that is what is being said.
Following the Thanksgiving Day accident, Brewton Superintendent Danny Howard and District Engineer Brent Maddox took another look at the intersection. According to Brewton Police Chief David (Mickey) Lovelace, the city and state realize that the intersection poses a danger to motorists and that steps to improve its safety are being considered.
As Brewton has continued to grow through the years, we have faced numerous challenges in keeping our infrastructure in working order, let alone increasing its capacity to match our needs. Our streets are often clogged with large trucks. Those trucks are vital for our city's continued economic growth, but the potential threat they pose to motorists and pedestrians cannot be ignored. As the traffic, truck and otherwise, continues to grow on our streets, it's inevitable that more intersections will become dangerous. We've reached a point where several side streets now pose nearly the same potential threat that the numerous railroad crossings downtown do.
Often times, committees meet with seemingly no mission or purpose, but rather to say that they've done so. If you've served on one, you have had to endure the dreaded lunch meetings that seem to fulfill little more purpose than as a social gathering. However, given the growing problem of traffic in Brewton, it's time for the city to look at forming a committee of city leaders and the public to examine some of the options we have. Several civic and business leaders are already involved in a group working with the states of Alabama and Florida to expand the highways between Navarre and Evergreen. Initial plans call for a bypass around Brewton, but a project of that size will take years, if not decades, to complete.
What Brewton needs is a master traffic plan. Every highway, side street and intersection needs to be examined for traffic capacity and safety. Where feasible, truck routes and detours need to be put into place. Safety devices such as warning and stoplights need to be installed at more dangerous intersections. The committee may even decide to close some streets, or change them to one-way thoroughfares.
There is always a rush to action after a tragedy and it appears that last week's may lead to improvements for at least one dangerous intersection. However, as a forward thinking community, we need to take a more proactive approach to public safety. While maintaining momentum for such a thing can be difficult, in this case, lives truly are at stake.
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