Resident: Morgan road a safety hazard
By Erica Smith
For the Enquirer
Four months after the Morgan County Commission was sued by a trucking company over alleged road and shoulder defects on Mount Zion Road, a teenager lost control at about the same location when her car fell off a 16-inch drop-off to the shoulder and she was thrown through her windshield, according to a nearby resident.
The Morgan County commissioner for the district said accidents in that area are usually a result of factors other than the shoulder drop-off.
Ronnie Burlison lives at 830 Mount Zion Road and said that two houses down from him there is an area of road that has a 16-inch drop-off from the road to the shoulder. He said he has lived on the road since 2000 and it has been a problem at least since he moved there.
“The drop-off is 100 yards south of my house, but when they come off of it, they end up in my yard or the neighbor’s yard,” Burlison said. “A couple of them have taken out our mailbox and one truck ended up in our driveway and spilled a bunch of gravel.”
He said those who veer inches off the busy roadway lose control due to the severity of the drop from the roadway to the shoulder.
“You could not control the car; your frame would be on the road,” he said.
Burlison said he and his neighbor to the south have each replaced their mailboxes about four times.
Some of the accidents have been more serious, he said, with the most recent being on March 27.
“A little teenage girl went off the road there, got thrown through the windshield; destroyed her car. Once you come off (the roadway), there’s no way you can recover,” Burlison said. “She was visibly shaken but that was the family car, and it was totally destroyed.”
The girl’s car rolled several times, Burlison said.
“She said she was looking at her phone or something but once you get off the road there — I mean, it’s her fault — but there’s no recovery there,” he said. “There’s no sign that says there’s a low shoulder there.”
Burlison said he was unable to get the name of the driver and has been unsuccessful in his efforts to obtain information about the extent of her injuries or how she is doing now.
The road is in Morgan County Commissioner Don Stisher’s District 3. He said the fault is often with the driver, not the road.
“Sometimes we need to consider how we drive,” he said. “It’s not always (the county’s) fault; it’s driver error, road condition, weather condition, rain, foggy, cloudy. … And speed and distracted drivers is a main issue with wrecks today.”
Stisher said there is some shoulder work that needs to be done in his district.
“Typically, we do need to do a good bit of shoulder work in a lot of areas,” he said. “But this is an area that there is a yard (along the roadway). It would require some shoulder building.
“I don’t know that it’s that severe. The yard does slope off pretty fast on their side of it, the ditch side.”
While he suspects factors other than the shoulder drop-off are responsible for most accidents, Stisher said he plans for his crews to do some work in the area.
“We do our best to keep (low shoulders) from happening and in that area, yes, there’s some shoulder to be built that we plan on building,” Stisher said.
Otherwise, Stisher said, the road is in good condition.
“The road is in good shape, it’s striped and it’s 21 feet wide,” he said.
Mount Zion is a busy road, Burlison said.
“That road is a shortcut from the city of Falkville to (Alabama) 36 East out of Hartselle,” he said. “So we have a lot of big trucks coming through there: feed trucks, gravel trucks, trucks with big equipment.”
In November 2020, an Anders Dump Truck and Excavation Services Inc. dump truck carrying gravel overturned at the location. The truck lost its load and was damaged.
“It ended up in my driveway and gravel in my ditch,” Burlison said. “He went off well above my driveway, probably 80 to 100 yards. He had a big truck, and he could not recover. … It was on its side.”
Anders filed a lawsuit against the County Commission in November alleging that the “operator of the vehicle lost control of the vehicle and overturned due to the construction and/or maintenance of Mt. Zion Road and/or the shoulder of the road. The vehicle incurred significant damage and it was rendered useless to the plaintiffs.”
The lawsuit goes on to say the Morgan County Commission “had a duty to warn of dangerous conditions or defects that it knew, or should have known, of that existed on its public roadways. … Morgan County Commission … breached its duty and acted negligently by failing to warn of a dangerous condition or defect that existed on Mt. Zion Road.”
Stisher said he is familiar with the incident.
“The driver got off the road long before he got to that area,” he said. “We get blamed for any and everything. … I’m not saying that the driver was at error. … I don’t really have a comment about who was right and who was wrong.”
Burlison said his neighbor does not allow his children to play in the front yard.
“There’s always the danger of a car coming off, leaving the road there and being out of control,” Burlison said.
Burlison said he was recently in Cullman County where he saw low shoulder signs posted. He said he thinks signs would help, but he would rather see the problem resolved.
“What I’d like for them to do is repair that drop-off because if you go off, your frame is on the road; you cannot control your vehicle,” Burlison said. “It would be good if they could build a shoulder there. … As an alternative they should at least post there’s a low shoulder there. They’ve done neither of those.”
Stisher said the shoulder cannot be repaired right now due to rainy weather.
“We typically do it in the drier part of the year which should be coming up,” he said. “We have to move rock and dirt materials; when it’s been raining like it has it’d be muddier and messier than fixing anything. It would be done this summer.”