Palmgren's death stirs road safety concerns

Palmgren's death stirs road safety concerns

December 15th, 2011 by Jennifer Bardoner in Local Regional News

There are no guardrails along Signal Mountain's brow, where Gail Palmgren's Jeep Rubicon veered off the road and down the side of the mountain April 30.

After the wreckage was discovered Dec. 2, her death has sparked discussions about why there aren't more safety barriers along the roadside.

"The dynamics of an accident are such that whether or not guardrails would help, you can't determine," said Signal Mountain Police Chief Boyd Veal, who can only remember one other accident which took a vehicle over the edge of the brow. "Obviously in some instances it would, but in others you just don't know."

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Janice Atkinson said there have been no other rollovers along the portion of roadway in their jurisdiction, which is where Palmgren's accident occurred.

Both she and Veal said East Brow Road and its feeder road, North Palisades, have not been the scene of a lot of accidents. There were four crashes along the portion in HCSO's jurisdiction between 2008 and 2011. Veal said figures broken down by location within the town limits are not readily available.

"I would not say it's one of our areas of higher traffic accident occurrences," he said of the roadway. "[It's] certainly not one of the more heavily traveled, but there is a reasonable amount of traffic on it."

Signal Mountain Town Manager Honna Rogers said guardrail installation is generally based on crash data.

"There is a cost to guardrails, so we don't just want to put them in unless there's a real reason for it," she said of the structures which typically cost around $30 per foot for the most basic design. "Then we would have to find funding for it, and then we'd have to see if the people who actually drive that road actually want them. We get very mixed signals from the public on that."

A forthcoming project to install guardrails along the 300 and 500 block of North Palisades was met with contention from surrounding property owners, she said.

"It takes away their sight view," Rogers said.

Since the roughly $35,000 project is being funded by a federal grant, guardrails will soon be installed along approximately 750 feet of the scenic roadway despite an overwhelming lack of support.

"Years ago when the grant was given, somebody asked to amend it to add these guardrails in. I can find no reason as to why this area needed amending, but because we received grant money we have to do it or we risk losing all other grant money," Rogers said.

Walden does not own any right of way along its portion of East Brow Road on which to install guardrails, according to Town Recorder Fern Lockhart.

"You have to have [the property owner's] permission to do so if you don't own right of way," she said.

Instead of guardrails, purposely placed large boulders line the roadway where Palmgren veered off the road.

Rogers noted that due to the mountain's terrain and geography, guardrails cannot be put in place everywhere.