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Local officials oppose defunding of bypass

John Pilati

Franklin Free Press

Alaska, you’re not alone. Make room for Franklin County’s “Bridge to Nowhere.”

A massive set of dual bridges stands alone across Upper Bear Lake as part of the recently defunded Haleyville bypass project. And Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow met with Alabama Department of Transportation officials recently to voice his opposition to the project’s omission from the Joint Transportation Committee’s five-year plan, which sets funding for all projects across the state.

The project begins where the four-lane portion of Alabama 13 ends atop Spruce Pine Mountain. The bypass was to reconnect with Alabama 13 south of Haleyville near Natural Bridge. The bypass would eliminate the need for motorists from the Shoals to travel through Phil Campbell, Bear Creek and Haleyville when they travel south to Tuscaloosa. Alabama 13 intersects with Interstate 22 approximately 15 miles south of Delmar.

Morrow addressed the committee last week, presenting a map and information on the project as well as a letter of opposition from Sen. Roger Bedford in regard to defunding the project.

“This highway was to hook up with I-22 and provide safe transportation for people traveling from the Quad Cities area and Franklin County to go to the Tuscaloosa area,” Morrow said. “I made it loud and clear the people in northwest Alabama did oppose the DOT abandoning this very important project.

“It makes no sense to spend approximately $50 million on the project and then scrap it. If it’s not needed, why spend that money, and if it is needed, why not finish it?”

During the administration of then Gov. Sarah Palin, Alaska received national attention for allocating state funding (and receiving federal monies) to build the Gravina Island Bridge, which was to connect Ketchikan, Alaska, to Gravina Island, with its 50 residents. Project costs totaled $398 million.

“Sadly, this road has been abandoned in the five-year project, and we’ve got bridges and segments of a highway built going to nowhere,” Morrow said.

Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver said the bypass project, which has segments of both paved and unpaved road in Franklin County, has become a frequent location for criminal activity.

“We regularly receive calls about four-wheelers on the road, or racing, and we responded to an assault call last weekend where people had pulled over and committed an assault against an individual,” Oliver said. “The longer this stays unfinished, the bigger the problem gets.”

In 2011, DOT officials estimated the project cost to be $265 million. The first phase began in Spruce Pine and ended at the Dime community near Franklin 79 and 71.

Morrow said two sets of dual bridges had been built and that no bids were accepted for the other set. Morrow acknowledges the project is likely a dead issue, but he wanted them to understand the “deep opposition and outrage” of northwest Alabamians upon learning the project was defunded.

“Here I am the lone voice opposing it, but I didn’t want the people on the Joint Transportation Committee thinking everyone was okay with the five-year plan, because we are not,” Morrow said. “I know when I’m outvoted, and I can face reality. It’s a sad point in our state when we spend $50 million on a project and then walk away.”

For the foreseeable future, the massive bridge spanning over Upper Bear Lake will remain Franklin County’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” even with strong objections from residents who use the lake.

“It’s one of the biggest wastes of taxpayer dollars this state has ever seen. Once started, this project should have been completed,” said Russellville resident Jerrod McKinney.

 

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