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Walnut Wait: Nine months later, Walnut still problematic

A plan to widen Walnut Avenue at the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 has found itself stalled in a bucket of yellow paint.

In June 2003, Mayor Austin Caldwell and members of the Demopolis City Council learned that Alabama Department of Transportation officials had finally granted the city permission to plan changes for the turbulent intersection.

After gaining permission, Almon&Associates — a Tuscaloosa engineering company that handles much of the city’s work — put together a plan to widen Walnut Avenue next to McDonald’s and the Church of Christ.

Along with adding a right-hand turn lane for cars traveling south on Walnut onto U.S. Highway 80, Caldwell said plans also would include a stack lane for cars turning east on U.S. 80 would be included.

Nine months ago, Caldwell first told council members about the plans. As of today, little has been done in terms of actual construction.

Dorell Owens, who works at the district office for ALDOT in Grove Hill, said plans were submitted last year for the turn lane on Walnut. However, ALDOT expressed concerned with a number of items in the proposal, included a bad paint job.

“A lot of it was just semantics,” Owens said. “For instance, there is supposed to be a yellow stripe down the middle of the road because it’s two-lane. But the proposal only showed a white, dotted stripe.”

While that may seem petty, the details of the new intersection are vital to moving the project forward.

Among other changes needed, according to Owens, were loop interruption plans and dimensions for the turn lane.

“That intersection is on a sensor, and there were some problems with the loop interruption,” he said. “There are also some minimum requirements for trucks using the turning lane, and those had to be corrected.”

Bob Evans, with Almon&Associates, said he received the corrections needed from ALDOT and indicated that a new plan has been submitted to the state agency for consideration.

“There weren’t a lot of big things that needed to be changed,” Evans said. “As far as I know, we made all the changes they requested and it was submitted last week.”

Though ALDOT could not confirm whether the newest plans have been viewed, Evans believes the city of Demopolis should know within the next week whether or not the city can proceed with plans to widen the Walnut intersection.

When discussion of the widening was first made public last year, Jeff Manuel, director of public safety, said the turning lane will help solve some of the traffic problems at that intersection.

“Depending on if they do it right, which I’m sure they will, this really will help,” Manuel said. “It will get more people off of Walnut and allow them to turn on Highway 80.”

Manuel did warn that if the lanes are not added correctly, the changes to the intersection could actually have an adverse effect, though.

“If they put the two lanes stopping at the same place, then people in the right hand lane won’t be able to see,” he said. “That could cause a problem.”