Governor Riley forms task force for dangerous Valley road

By Jeanie Powell - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - While in the Valley announcing two major road projects for Huntsville and Madison, Governor Bob Riley also visited a roadway that has been the subject of safety concerns for years.

This, just a week after 16 year old Whitney Stover died at Research Park Boulevard and Dan Tibbs.

Most people who travel Research Park every day will tell you just how dangerous it is.

The governor saw that first hand Friday.

Talks of an overpass go back to 1994, but Governor Riley said after too many fatalities and injuries, it's time to solidify a solution.

He told a crowded room at Madison City Hall:  "When I first became governor, I wanted someone that would take over the Department of Transporation and understand how critical a human life is and understand everytime you lose a human life, it affects a multitude of people for a generation."

"Joe McInnes and I and sat down and we said, 'We're going to build roads now based on three priorities: Safety, economic viability, economic development, does this help the state grow?  Third, is there a need rather than a want?'"

He adds, "Everything else is secondary to safety.  We're going to set every priority not based on political influence or anything else."

He says roads will be designed based on safety for drivers.

McInnes says, "We're rededicating to these safety issues that we have and we had a terrible accident out there the week before last and that affects all of us, all of us.  And as a father and a grandfather it's very diffiult for me to hear about these accidents."

"We're doing our best and we'll continue to do that."

When WAFF 48 News asked Governor Riley what he will do in addressing safety concerns along Research Park Boulevard, he said, "First, let me say to the family, 'I'm so sorry.  I can't think of a tragedy can be any worse than that."

"Mr. McInnes and I talked about it coming up here.  There has been a difference on who funds this.  We basically decided today, we got a task force that's going to get together next week and we're going to figure it out because if you've had 100 accidents out there it's time for us to step up and let's just understand what the problem is now, let's go fix it, and I think we'll get participation from everyone, because when you're having that kind of fatalities and that many accidents, it's time or us to do something."

In his talk, the Governor specifically referenced a Valley leader who has been vocal about this road:  "Dale Strong, thank you for your letters this week.  We understand we have another problem up here."

A problem of safety, documented by recent and old letters from county commissioners, legislators, and transportation officials.

Last week, a Valley teen lost her life on Research Park at Dan Tibbs.

Injuries and fatalities along that stretch of road, especially at Blake Bottom, date years back.

So does the issue of funding an overpass there.

A previous agreement with the city of Huntsville and DOT had money that would have gone towards an overpass, instead fund a frontage road system for the Toyota Plant.

The DOT has since said overpass financing must come from the city or county.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says that area isn't in Huntsville city limits, but says, "The whole thing it's a community project.  We've got to do whatever we can as a community."

I asked Battle if the funding is available, will he be willing to commit to backing part of the project.

"Yeah, we're willing to work with them.  We have our number one, two, three priorities, something opens with the stimulus package and we have some more money coming, we'd be willing to work with them in anyway."

Governor Riley and Transportation Director Joe McInnes visited the proposed site for an overpass.

Riley promises something will be done.

Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong has reached out to state and federal lawmakers for funding.

WAFF 48 News is told members of this task force will work with county and city leaders concerning this issue.

The governor sends his deepest condelences to Whitney Stover's family.