Griffin: There are no ‘easy answers’

Published 10:35 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If Mike Griffin had an answer, you can bet he’d be the first to offer it.

Griffin, who works with the Alabama Department of Transportation in Troy, knows the questions being raised about U.S. 231, just south of Troy – uncomfortable questions that have no easy answers.

“I can’t really give you a hard and fast answer about why or how,” Griffin said this week. “And I know the families involved in this …

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“Trust me, if I had an answer, we’d would’ve already implemented it.”

In the past four months, six people have died in three separate head-on collisions within a six-mile stretch on that highway. In the first, two students at Pike Liberal Arts School died when the vehicle in which they were riding hit an icy patch of roadway on the bridge and careened into oncoming traffic. It was tragic and painful.

“We had people riding on that road not 10 minutes before that happened,” Griffin said. “And there was no ice.”

Just a few weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, a man crossed lanes of traffic and crashed head-on into on-coming traffic, killing his wife who was riding in the passenger seat and seriously injuring the driver of the other vehicle. He faces criminal charges.

And now, less than two weeks ago, the devastatingly tragic accident that has brought the conversation to the fore: a driver crossed over the center lane, again crashing head-on into on-coming traffic. This time, a young mother and her 15-month-old son were killed, as well as the woman driving the first vehicle. Officers still don’t know what caused the driver to lose control of her car, but to a community rocked by the trio of accidents in such a short period of time.

The questions continue to come: at coffee clubs, at church socials, at lunch tables, even in calls to the police chief and city officials.

Would some type of barriers or dividers have made a difference? Could they have saved a life?

If so, what would it take to add them to the highway?

Those are questions with no easy answer, says Griffin. To understand the question, you have to understand the history of the construction of U.S. 231, which is considerably narrower between Troy and Brundidge than other areas of the highway. “The reason the roads are built like that has to do with the finances at the time … You have to go back to the economics of the time, and that predates any of us who are here,” he said. “We’re working with what we have at this point.”

And what we have is basically a five-lane highway way – four lanes of traffic divided by a center turning lane. Adding a true median is an expensive proposition.

“You’re talking about having to purchase right of way (to expand the highway) and building a new median … you’re talking about 6 to 7 million dollars per mile,” Griffin said. “And I just don’t think that kind of funding is available.”

Even if it were, the logistics would make a quick resolution unlikely. Putting up barriers, buying rights of way, adding medians – any of that would require environmental studies and approval. With two wetlands areas adjacent to that stretch of highway, the approvals could take up to 10 years.

That offers little consolation to those grieving. And Griffin realizes that.

“I know the hole that it leaves in you when you lose somebody dear to you,” Griffin said. “ If I had an answer, we’d be doing it.”