You work downtown and make plans to meet a friend at the Summit for lunch.
You drive onto the 3rd Avenue North entrance ramp of the Red Mountain Expressway.
You pass the University Boulevard exit on the right and the St. Vincent’s Medical Center complex up on the left—continue through the Red Mountain cut.
After you drive through the cut—BLAM!!!—you have a wreck.
That’s when things start to fall apart.
Who’s coming to help you?
Well, that depends.
The problem is the convoluted governmental boundaries in and around the Red Mountain fly-over—the overpass between the Red Mountain Expressway and 280—that flies over Highway 31 right before Homewood.
An accident investigator who worked for the City of Birmingham for ten years explained the boundaries in comments he made to an article published on ComebackTown about the confusion, overlap, and duplication in our Birmingham region.
Here’s his not-so-simple explanation of the boundaries…
“The flyover from Red Mountain is in (Jefferson) County.
Right before the flyover is Birmingham–as is the bottom of the ramp onto Hwy 280.
The first Zoo exit is mostly in Birmingham, but one part is actually the State of Alabama.
Union Hill is in Birmingham.
Take a left going to Mountain Brook and you are actually in Birmingham until the nursing home on the left.
The exit ramp to your right is in Homewood because Mountain Brook did not want an Express Oil Change in their city.
Highway 280 South past the Hollywood bridge is Mountain Brook and the State of Alabama.”
And then “it depends on the location that the person calling gives the operator as to who goes and checks on it–unless it is an emergency then several jurisdictions will be notified.”
Between Fultondale & downtown
We seem to have pockets of confusion all over metro Birmingham.
“I was in between Fultondale and downtown, on 65N a couple of years ago, and saw a drunk driver almost hit about 5 cars including myself, and keep going, swerving all over the road, driving well over the speed limit, then well under it. I called 911, and was on hold for 7 minutes bouncing between the dispatchers/cops …all arguing if it should be a state trooper matter or not, before someone claimed it and said they’d come try to track him down. By that time he’d bounced off a car careened across 3 lanes of traffic and speared a concrete barrier. Proceeded to get his drunken, bloody, injured self out of the truck and start running across 65 for the woods.”
From Bessemer to Parkway East
“…happened to me one night coming home from work. Started in Bessemer on I-59 going north. Drunk driver all over the road, pushing people out of their lanes, then when we get to civic center the person decides to drive backwards, all this time I’m on the phone with 911 getting transferred to several depots because no one would take responsibility to come get the person off the road. Finally after passing the Parkway East exit the person goes off in the medium, gets stuck and is spinning tires trying to get out. I pull over and hear arguments still over who is coming out to get the person. I finally told them I’m not leaving until someone comes and gets this fool…Cop was there in 15 minutes, arrested the person. Smh. What if this was some sort of medical emergency instead? The person could be dead by the time they decide who comes to the scene.”
Three smart cities
Much of this confusion is because Jefferson County has 15 emergency call centers, 53 fire departments, and 24 police departments–plus the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.
Previously both Trussville and Vestavia Hills operated their own emergency call centers, but they ultimately made the responsible decision to outsource them. Leeds soon will be following their lead.
Vestavia Hills’ decision to outsource its call center immediately saved $1.2 million in capital investment and $500,000 a year in operating costs. Over the past five years, Vestavia Hills has saved $3.7 million.
It is really expensive to operate a call center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
This should be an easy problem to fix
The 13* mayors and city councils who maintain their own call centers should be embarrassed.
We are wasting tens of millions of dollars and risking lives. At a time when many municipalities are struggling financially, there are better options than raising taxes.
The obvious solution is to have a single Jefferson County call center.
*Here are the Jefferson County municipalities who currently operate 911 call centers. You might consider contacting your mayor and/or city councilor to let them know how you feel.
- Mountain Brook
- Pleasant Grove
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org