Sep. 23—COTACO — Parents and grandparents picking up their students at Cotaco School say they are often sitting in fear for their lives along the westbound shoulder of Alabama 36 while vehicles whiz by at 60 mph.
"It's very dangerous," said Megan Wright, sitting in a parked car waiting for two of her grandchildren 20 minutes before the final school bell rang Wednesday afternoon. "Cars come up (Alabama 36), and they don't slow down. They don't slow down for this school. About two weeks ago, a big truck just missed (my car by) about 3 inches. You pray and don't look. We're totally helpless at the mercy of these cars speeding by."
The K-8 school is on Cotaco School Road, a one-way road off Alabama 36. About 15 cars are able to line up on Cotaco School Road to pick up students, and the rest typically line up on the shoulder of westbound Alabama 36 as they wait for school to end and the cars in front of them to leave.
Another grandmother, Tina Bates, was also inching along Alabama 36 on Wednesday to pick up two grandchildren.
"It's scary out here, to sit on the side of the road," she said.
Candice Blanchard, a mother waiting in the line, was puzzled that the school system, county and state allow parents and grandparents to be put in a dangerous environment as they wait to pick up the students.
"It makes you wonder why" they would allow it, she said. "With all of the traffic we're seeing, something is needed."
Jeremy Childers, a spokesman for Morgan County Schools, said the traffic backup is in part a result of Sparkman School's seventh and eighth graders being moved to Cotaco a couple of years ago, increasing its enrollment to about 500.
Childers, motorists and nearby business owners all agree it has only been a problem the past few years.
"There's definitely more traffic because enrollment has gone up," Childers said Thursday afternoon. "We're looking forward to sitting at the table with the state and County Commission about what can be done to rectify the issue."
Childers said the school system plans to reach out to District 4 Commissioner Greg Abercrombie next week to discuss the issue.
Nearby business owner Jonathan Davis of Platinum Automotive said he thinks the school system should redirect the traffic so the parents can pick up students by approaching from Benson Road off Collins Hill Road. Collins Hill Road runs west from Alabama 36, about a half mile north of the school. Benson Road runs south from Collins Hill Road along the east side of the school.
"Benson isn't a busy road," he said. "It's not a major highway like 36. It's a two-lane county road. It is a lot safer if they sit back there to get them off the main highway."
Davis said that between 2:30 and 3 p.m. on school days, customers and employees can't leave his parking lot at the corner of Cotaco School Road and Alabama 36 because the traffic is lined up and stopped, blocking the entrance to his business.
"My parts delivery driver can't get in, and I can't get out to go on a test drive, or to the bank," Davis said. "I've had a tow truck driver hauling a vehicle blocking the road trying to turn in but the school traffic is parked here. It just adds to the chaos."
Mike Owen, owner of Owen Appliance Store, across the street from Platinum Automotive, said he has seen school traffic backed up about 300 yards along the shoulder of Alabama 36. "Some of those vehicles parked there are partly out in the lane of the traffic on 36. It's definitely not safe," he said.
Childers said there is not an easy solution, "but we all agree it is not safe."
Abercrombie said the county could consider adding a shoulder to the county-owned Benson Road. He said if the state put in a turning lane off Alabama 36 that would not solve the problem. "Parking on a turn lane is a violation and certainly not the fix to this traffic issue," he said.
Seth Burkett, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said a turn lane "is not on any plans."
"We are aware of the traffic backing up there," he said. "It is a school issue, the school system managing the traffic."
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