The Oxford City Council agreed this month to hire an engineer to study traffic patterns at the intersection and, if it turns out to be an appropriate safety measure, draft plans to install a traffic signal there.
In the first three months after the parkway opened in July 2004, six accidents occurred at the intersection.
Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said that since 2006 — the earliest records Partridge said were available — 93 accidents have occurred there. One of the accidents resulted in a death.
In October 2004, Raymond McManus, 47, of Woodland, was traveling west on Friendship Road, on his way to walk around Oxford Lake Park before his 7 a.m. shift at North American Bus Industries. An Anniston man driving north on the parkway struck McManus’ car. McManus died, leaving behind a wife and two children. The other driver was treated and released from Regional Medical Center that day.
The problem, said Oxford Councilman Mike Henderson, is that for many years drivers were accustomed to traveling along Friendship Road with no stop signs. Today, drivers on Friendship are required to stop at the intersection while drivers on the parkway encounter a flashing light.
The city’s retail growth also compounds the problem, Henderson said. As the Oxford Exchange shopping center at one end of the parkway grew, so did the number of cars traveling in from Clay, Randolph and Cleburne counties.
Wal-Mart Stores announced this month the company plans to open a Sam’s Club at the Exchange, and the city is moving forward with plans for a sports complex nearby. Both projects will further increase traffic through the intersection, Henderson said.
Driver confusion about whether the intersection was a four-way or a two-way stop caused numerous wrecks early on, Henderson said.
“You also have people on the parkway driving a little too fast as they go through the intersection. Some get a little anxious. Traffic has been backed up and they’ve been sitting there for several minutes and all of a sudden they just go for it,” Henderson said. “Sometimes it’s not the correct decision.”
Long time coming
“It’s about time,” said David Morrison, who lives near the intersection. “How many people have been hurt at that light in accidents that could have been prevented?”
Morrison, who began petitioning the city to install a traffic signal shortly after the intersection was built, said city officials told him more than once that something would be done about the problem. Safety measures such as a flashing light, a longer turning lane and additional speed-limit signs have been installed, but accidents kept occurring.
“We had three in one day here,” Morrison said, describing one accident in which a woman was trapped inside her car with her three young children. He said he was able to free the children from the car and had to calm the terrified woman.
Morrison said he’s looking forward to not hearing crashes outside his home anymore.
“There’s not a day goes by that you don’t hear horns blowing and tires squealing,” he said.
Contractors working for the Alabama Department of Transportation built the parkway, and at that time, surveyors working for the agency said a traffic light wasn’t needed at the intersection. Several city officials disagreed, and shortly after the state turned the intersection over to the city in 2005, a flashing light was installed.
The council debated in 2011 plans to build a roundabout at the intersection, which would have allowed traffic to flow in a circular pattern without need of a traffic signal or stop signs.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, a program of the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, offered Oxford nearly $1 million to construct the roundabout. Mayor Leon Smith and some members of the council chose not to use a roundabout, and instead debated for a time to try a four-way stop.
Attempts Thursday to reach Smith and Council President Steven Waits for comment were unsuccessful.
The money can be used only for a roundabout unless the MPO committee agrees to allow its use for another project, Henderson said, but the committee meets infrequently and the wait would have been too long.
Henderson said that at the recommendation of Jack Plunk, a principal planner with MPO, the council has chosen to pay for the traffic light using city money, thereby keeping the nearly $1 million set aside for possible use in another street project.
Partridge said he supports the installation of a traffic signal, and said while it won’t stop all accidents, it will increase driver safety.
“It should reduce those high-speed collisions,” Partridge said. “You may have an increase in rear-end collisions because of the red light, but we believe that it will definitely reduce the number of injury accidents at that intersection.”
Henderson said the council debated the matter for a long time, and he’s glad that the desire many residents have had for a traffic light there is being listened to.
“It’s something we’ve all been concerned about,” Henderson said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.