By Joey McWilliams
CALERA – The long-awaited construction of U.S. Highway 69/75 through Calera has finally begun. And with it now are all of the new driving circumstances that will come with it.
In some places through Calera and on to the south, the speed limit currently remains the same. But new signs have been posted to remind drivers, not only to slow down, but also that there are now and will be for some time, workers on and near the roadway.
Don Hyde, chief of police in Calera, said it is important that the motoring public pay attention the best they can.
“We knew it was coming,” Hyde said. “We’ve had advance notice. We’ve tried to warn and educate and everything we possibly can to make folks aware of the condition going through Calera.
“The first phase of the construction started Oct. 14, and assigned placements went in just a couple of weeks prior to that. It was in an effort to make folks that are either pass-through traffic or localized traffic to become aware that they need to slow down. And this was before barrier-wall placements were added. We have a reduction in speed down to 55.”
He said that with the construction where it is now, about 60-70 percent of the time there will be workers present. In February, it will be 100 percent.
And now temporary roads are being put into place to help the flow of traffic in upcoming months.
“You’re looking at a cement road developed through there,” Hyde said. “Not necessarily a challenge, but it will certainly be an interruption to traffic if you’re not paying attention. And that’s the key, if you’re not paying attention. You’re going to be driving on a newly-laid roadway that they put in place and diverted for a portion of the road from the north to the south or vice versa to get you safely through what they are developing on the sides.
“So that’s going to be very important. And like I say, we just really, really need folks to be aware.
“We’ve had a hard and heavy push, for lack of another way of putting it, to our social media sites – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. We try to keep them updated as often as we can. We even put out a little teaser every once-in-a-while showing some of the speeds we’re obtaining through here. And again, people make mistakes. You catch yourself off-guard and then you’re running a few miles an hour over the speed limit.
“But we’re still averaging a speed out there of about 64 miles per hour. It’s posted 55. And some of the citations we’ve written are in the mid-to-high 80’s to up to 114 miles an hour. And that’s just not going to be tolerated. All it takes is one slip-up and a life could be lost of the person allegedly violating the law or of an innocent bystander.”
These new and temporary roadways are parts of the prerequisites that have to be in place before the major construction is to begin. Hyde said a thoroughfare must be open so that the traffic is continuously moving. At no point is it to be completely shut down.
“We want folks to become aware of their surroundings and to pay attention to their speed,” Hyde said. “I noted years ago, that with the use of this trailer that monitors your speed, I’d much rather you pay attention than to pay a fine. And that’s true. People mess up, but when it’s blatant, it’s a problem.”
He also said he knows he is just short of begging people to slow down, but recognizes the necessity of this as more people factor into the driving situation.
“In February, the project will be going 100 percent. The construction company is looking at an influx of about 175 to 200-plus employees that will be here on site. These people will be contributing to our economy. And along with doing their job to provide for their family, they are even more people to watch out for.
“There is absolutely nothing that warrants the speeds that we’re seeing right now. I stopped a man just a few moments ago that was driving at a speed in the mid-70’s and he said he was late for a biology exam. And we know things happen, but I haven’t found anything that would warrant the speeds that we’re seeing through here.”
And he addressed those who might say he is being overly concerned about this issue, while encouraging and warning drivers to just be aware.
“In the 32 years of doing this, along with the police officers that on the average have been here 10-12 years, what they’ve witnessed out here – the amount of death, lives lost to youngsters and people throughout our community who are now gone – if you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for the people who have already been lost. Simply slow down. There are so many good people who are missing from this community because of improper driving actions or speed factors or intoxication or narcotics – just a volume of reasons.
“You know, nobody gets up in the morning and thinks, ‘Yeah, I believe I’ll go crash my 2013 Suburban. I have nothing else to do.’ At no time in the history of vehicles would you find somebody to admit that.
“With that said, I’d just ask that they pay attention. With this construction, it adds a whole new meaning to the term ‘defensive driving’ and watching the other driver.”