Sparked by citizen concerns regarding the intersection of U.S. 231 and Ala 75 in Oneonta, an investigation regarding Oneonta’s most dangerous intersection began.
Despite contacting several local and state agencies, The Blount Countian was informed by a representative of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) that they “do not disclose site-specific data and the information is sensitive and protected from disclosure.”
ALDOT suggested contacting the local police or Alabama Department of Public Safety to obtain site-specific information. Attempts to gather the site-specific accident information at this intersection have been unsuccessful thus far.
During this investigation, however, the Oneonta Police Department (OPD) was able to confirm that although the above-mentioned intersection is definitely dangerous, there are more wrecks that occur at the traffic light positioned at U.S. 231 and First Avenue East than at the intersection of U.S. 231 and Ala 75.
According to Assistant Chief Judy Underwood, many drivers traveling U.S. 231 North into Oneonta have acknowledged, “They did not see the light was red at this intersection because they were focused on the traffic light located less than a half a block ahead.”
Underwood believes that many drivers have “tunnel vision” and are often “zoned in” from the 13-mile, uninterrupted stretch from Ashville and simply focus in on the U.S. 231 and Ala 75 traffic signal.
Because the red lights at U.S. 231 and First Avenue East and at U.S. 231 and Ala 75 are not in sync, these “zoned in” drivers often end up running the red light at the U.S. 231 and First Avenue East intersection, thus making it even more dangerous for those traveling through this crossing.
“People need to be more aware that these are two separate traffic lights instead of just looking ahead,” said Underwood.
There is no indication that most of the accidents at this intersection are due to distractions such as people texting while driving or talking on the phone.
When asked about possible solutions to make drivers more aware of this intersection, Underwood said, “Something needs to be done. Speed bumps would be logical.”
Blount County is under ALDOT’s Birmingham Division. Alycia Hall, Birmingham area director of traffic, was contacted about the process of how dangerous driving areas are assessed for possible solutions. She said residents need to let law enforcement know about their concerns. That agency will then need to contact ALDOT with “an estimate of raw data” regarding wrecks and citations at that site-specific location.
ALDOT will then “do observations of the area, go over accident reports and make a determination of any further safety needs for the area of concern.” ALDOT is responsible for implementation of possible solutions.
According to Underwood, “One of the greatest dangers for local drivers is crossing a main thoroughfare from a side street.” She reiterated, “Just because your light turns green, don’t stomp and go.” She suggested hesitating a second and looking both directions before pulling out “because people on the main roads try to beat the light.”
As safety is a priority, Underwood and Officer Mitch Latta also mentioned the concern of drivers crossing public and private property to avoid a traffic signal. Law prohibits this increasingly popular means of drivers trying to avoid red lights and waiting their turn to proceed.
City ordinance M-38-97-1 states, (a) It shall be unlawful for any person operating any motor vehicle within the city or its police jurisdiction to drive such a vehicle through private or public property for the purpose of avoiding a traffic light or traffic signal at such property. (b) Driving a motor vehicle through any private or public property located at the intersection of any two streets of the city without stopping such vehicle on such property for the transaction of business shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this section.
Both Underwood and Latta admit that many drivers are not aware they are breaking the law, and they want to get this important information out to the public. Latta said, “This ordinance was adopted in 1997 for the safety of citizens.”
Underwood mentioned several popular illegal cutoff routes drivers use to avoid a traffic signal, including Hometown Market, Captain D’s, Taco Bell, Ace Hardware and the Marathon Station.
ONEONTA BUSINESS ASSOCIATION The 8th Annual Dawg Daze will be Saturday, May 6, at 1:30 p.m., at Klassy K-9 and Sassy Kat in Oneonta. Prizes will be awarded in categories such as Most Photogenic, Best Looking, Best Costume, Best Trick, and Dog/Owner Lookalikes. There will be portraits, an adoption station, a canine fashion show, face painting, inflatables, food, and more. All proceeds will benefit local animal shelters.