Detour ahead: Funeral home battle DOT regulations

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 4, 2003

Curt Franklin isn’t asking for much. At least he doesn’t think so.

He has a driveway; he’d like to be able to use it. Is that asking too much?

Actually, Franklin had a driveway. But that was before the state of Alabama ordered him to install a concrete curb where his driveway used to be.

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The driveway is meant to facilitate traffic going in and out. The curb is meant to stop traffic from going in and out. It’s very effective.

Franklin says it’s too effective.

Franklin is general manager of Selma Funeral Home, located on Highway 22 North next to Pineview Cemetery. They opened just last year.

It’s an attractive facility. The building is brick. It is large and tastefully decorated. On the walls hang original pieces of art, commissioned expressly for the funeral home. The parking lot is paved and well lit at night.

But if you want to get to Selma Funeral Home today, you won’t be able to simply drive up Highway 22, put on your turn signal and turn into the driveway as you can at any other business along that stretch of road.

If you do, you’re liable to leave your muffler or some other vital piece of automotive machinery dangling on that concrete curb the state made Franklin install.

At least one of his customers has already done just that.

Instead, you have to drive about 100 yards up the road and use the entrance to Pineview Cemetery. Then you have to negotiate three &045;&045; count ’em, three &045;&045; separate turns to make your way to the back entrance of the funeral home.

Trying to navigate those turns at night, when most funeral visitations take place, can be tricky.

The lane in the cemetery is paved but it’s wide enough for only one car. Should you attempt to enter the funeral home at the same time a car is leaving the funeral home, one of you must pull off the pavement and hope you don’t run over the grave of someone’s dearly departed grandmother.

Franklin put up a sign at the cemetery entrance alerting people to the fact that it now doubles as the entrance to the funeral home. But a lot of people miss the sign. Old habits die hard. They keep trying to turn into the funeral home’s driveway.

Only the funeral home doesn’t have a driveway, anymore.

By the time people discover that fact, though, many of them have turned off Highway 22 onto what was the funeral home driveway &045;&045; back before the state made them install that concrete curb.

The ones who don’t just keep plowing straight ahead at great risk to their car’s vitals have to put their car into reverse, back out onto the highway and pray that some passing semi doesn’t speed them on to the great hereafter.

To those who have always secretly harbored doubts about government’s ability to function logically, it will come as no surprise that the state has denied Franklin access to his own driveway in the name of safety.

The state also wants the funeral home to pay for that work. The funeral home business is a sobering undertaking. But when Franklin got the estimate for what all that work would cost he had to sit down on one of those tastefully decorated sofas they keep on hand for the faint of heart.

The tab comes to a hefty $100,000.

When the folks at the funeral home drew up a business plan, they tried to plan for everything. But they didn’t allow for a driveway that cost a hundred G’s.

While Franklin says he sympathizes with the state’s expressed desire to maintain the safe flow of traffic, he thinks the funeral home is being unfairly singled out.

When he pointed that fact out to the people over at the state Department of Transportation, they explained that the stricter guidelines apply only to new businesses.

While the funeral home has only been open since July, the driveway into the funeral home property has been there much longer. It used to lead to the cemetery office.

Because of that, Franklin argues that the funeral home should have been allowed to continue using the driveway.

Eventually the state plans to four-lane Highway 22. When it does, it will install acceleration-deceleration lanes at no cost to existing businesses. But no one knows for sure just when the project will be funded.

In the meantime, Franklin has devised what he believes is a workable solution. He’s asking the state for a temporary access permit that would allow the funeral home to reopen its driveway until the highway is four-laned.

Thus far, though, the state isn’t budging. Franklin just hopes the impasse doesn’t end in tragedy.