MENTONE, Ala. — One of the busiest 18-wheeler routes in Northeast Alabama is now shut down, but some semi drivers have risked narrow gap roads to keep their trips as short as they can — which has landed them stuck and needing help. It has also caused a driving hazard for residents and tourists alike.
Alabama Highway 117 has been closed since April 1, 2021 as the Alabama Department of Transportation investigates and repairs a landslide on the side of beautiful Lookout Mountain. There are large detour signs and others notifying 18-wheeler drivers that there is no access, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying.
“There’s been a couple incidents where trucks try to go up and do it and they’ve had to bring a crew in to get them out,” said Elevation Bistro owner and chef Kevin Dunlap. “You’re locked. it’s that tight of a road.”
Dunlap is talking about Tutwiler Gap.
“It’s a switchback up the side of the mountain and it’s clearly marked no 18-wheelers, and that’s year round,” Dunlap added.
“To get them to make the turns, there’s not enough room so they’re having to swing way out which makes other cars have problems,” explained Moon Lake Trading Company owner Misty Watters.
Watters told News 19 Wednesday that County Road 89 has also been an issue since Highway 117’s closure.
“There’s really not enough room. There’s barely any room for like two regular sized pickup trucks, so you can imagine the 18-wheelers make you slide over and there’s not a lot of edge on the side,” Watters said.
The local business owners told News 19 the drive through their small tourist town is a major route for the transportation industry, so with the road closure it’s been much quieter.
“117 is the cut through for the transportation industry from Huntsville to Atlanta. It’s an hour cut for them,” said Dunlap.
They said since those incidents, Mentone police and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency have stepped up.
Large signs are posted and a trooper is standing guard to write citations and turn them around.
The Mentone Police Chief said they have issued six citations to semi drivers as of Wednesday.
Dunlap and Watters told News 19 that drivers should just go slow and follow the detour signs.
Official detours for commercial traffic are below.
Northbound AL 117 traffic (traveling toward Valley Head):
AL 117 SB to GA 48 EB (at state line)
GA 48 EB to US 27 SB (in Summerville, Ga.)
US 27 SB to GA 114 WB (in Summerville, Ga.)
GA 114 WB to AL 68 WB (at state line)
AL 68 WB to AL 35 NB (at Gaylesville)
AL 35 NB to US 11 NB (at Fort Payne)
US 11 NB to AL 117 (at Hammondville)
Southbound AL 117 traffic (traveling toward Mentone):
AL 117 NB to US 11 SB (at Hammondville)
US 11 SB to AL 35 SB (at Fort Payne)
AL 35 SB to AL 68 EB (at Gaylesville)
AL 68 EB to GA 114 EB (at state line)
GA 114 EB to US 27 NB (in Summerville, Ga.)
US 27 NB to GA 48 WB (in Summerville, Ga.)
GA 48 WB to AL 117 NB (at state line)
Local passenger traffic may use other alternates. Alabama 117 will be completely closed between
Tutwiler Gap and Cool Street in Mentone.
Commercial drivers are strongly advised to use the brake check area on Alabama 35 to ensure
safety before proceeding down the mountain into Fort Payne.
ALDOT appreciates the assistance of the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Alabama
Law Enforcement Agency. Alabama state troopers will assist with traffic control.
ALDOT is reviewing potential solutions to determine a safe repair.