PHOTO: The Fort Payne City Council discussed the possibility of rerouting trucks that pass down Gault Ave.(Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)
By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Most Fort Payne citizens could agree that traffic has long since been a problem in the city, though few could agree on how to fix the problem. The city's main street, Gault Avenue, is not only used by local drivers, but as part of A.L. Highway 35 and U.S. Highway 11, this means numerous commercial vehicles travel right through Fort Payne's main street area.
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In this week's meeting of the Fort Payne City Council, Councilwoman Lynn Brewer brought up an idea that would potentially help with the truck traffic: just go around.
"It's been brought to my attention that maybe an easy fix for some of the truck traffic was on Gault Avenue at Fifth Street, right by the park, that we make a truck route, forcing trucks to take a right, whether they are going north or south," explained Brewer earlier at today's meeting.
While the idea sounds straight-forward, as was previously mentioned, Gault Avenue is also U.S. Highway 11 and A.L. Highway 35, leaving much speculation about who has the authority to determine what can pass through Fort Payne's down town.
Before the meeting, Brewer asked about the issue of trucks coming through downtown Fort Payne, and about her idea to alleviate it.
"It was actually my uncle that came up with the idea," she explained. "He said, 'why not reroute the trucks to the right and down the interstate when they come down the mountain instead of through town or down a back street?'"
Brewer was also asked about how truck traffic would be alerted and directed away from down town.
"(One) problem is and the concern is when we have traffic coming in from the south, how are we going to direct it all? We can do it with signage, but they'll have to get used to it. We do it anyway for Third Saturdays and events like that," explained Brewer.
Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser weighed in at the meeting on how the city would go about establishing the truck route:
"I think if we should make a resolution on what we want to do, and send it to the legislature. We do not have the authority to do anything with Highways 35 or 11, but the legislature can. I think that's the appropriate route if this is what everyone wants to do, is pass a resolution. Let Nathaniel (Ledbetter) present it in Montgomery, and get it worked out," Mayor Chesser said.
Chesser also explained how traffic could be rerouted from the north as well: "It could just as easily be done North and South at the same time. You could have traffic coming from Scottsboro on 35, turn and go up the interstate to the next exit and turn going that way."
Chesser then lamented that ideas had been tossed around by the state in the past, but most of the proposed solutions had multi-million dollar price tags.
"But this wouldn't cost us anything. Buy two or three signs and that's about it," said Chesser.
"Nathanial (Ledbetter) said he thought by ordinance we could probably do it in-house," Brewer elaborated.
"I don't think that's right. I mean, you have the state highway and the U.S. highway," said City Attorney Rock Watson on passing an ordinance.
"He had spoken to ALDOT, he said he's willing to do whatever it takes to help us move forward," replied Brewer.
"I know that it's been an issue for a long time," said Council President Brian Baine. "Everybody you talk to downtown, especially the business owners, it's an issue."
But Baine also pointed out that it may affect the consumer traffic in downtown, "You don't want to pull your truck traffic out of downtown, because if you pull the truck traffic out, the regular traffic will follow."
Councilman Red Taylor brought up concerns of the truck's GPS systems still taking them through downtown. The council then asked Fort Payne Police Chief Randy Bynum his opinion on the idea.
"If that comes to pass, my question is how are we going to enforce it?" Chief Bynum asked. "There's a whole lot of thought process that goes into it."
"We can't pass an ordinance that says trucks can't go down U.S. 11, the state's not going to say you can't put a truck on U.S. 11. I don't think we can do anything put up a route and hope they follow it," Watson added.
"I think it's worth doing if it only deters half of it. I think anything will help," replied Brewer.
Councilman Wade Hill said, "I understand where you're coming from, and I like the idea, but I think we are going to run into one obstacle after another, but we won't know until we try."
Hill also added that if the proposed truck route is put in place, the city will have to do some work on that intersection.
"One thing we'll have to do if this comes to pass, we'll have to redo that corner. Right now they are getting in the left lane to turn right now. The Mapco purchase will one day allow us to make a sweeping turn to fix the problem," he said.
Even if this solution doesn't pan out, Brewer pointed out that the problem is worth looking at:
"I know it's easy to sit here and come up with reasons why we can't, but at least we can try," said Brewer towards the end of the meeting.
No matter what the solution, anyone spending time in downtown might say that there are too many, "big rigs" moving through an area that's not well suited for them. No matter if an idea is possible or not, the problem will remain if nothing is done.
"Maybe this will work until we decide to do something else. It's not a do or die thing, It's just a suggestion," Brewer said in comments before the meeting.