Commission seizing the opportunity for bridge funding
by Emily Adams
TALLADEGA COUNTY – It has been discussed intermittently for two decades, and thanks to new funding opportunities, talks of a bridge across the Coosa River are gaining steam yet again.

The Talladega County Commission passed a resolution at its December meeting asking for support and additional funding from the state to construct a bridge connecting Talladega County Road 26 through Fayetteville and Shelby County Road 28 into Columbiana. Sylacauga City Council approved a similar resolution, and other municipalities are expected to do the same.

In previous talks, the project fell flat when the Talladega and Shelby county commissions failed to agree on issues like funding, road repairs and safety. However, District 5 Talladega County Commissioner Greg Atkinson said fresh faces and new opportunities have given them another chance to make it work.

“We want the bridge, but we want it done in a spirit of cooperation,” Atkinson said. “In the past, it may have looked like we were trying to force things, but we have new faces on both sides, so I’m optimistic about it, but there are some fears that we have to address.”

Atkinson said the bridge, which would cross in area that served as the McGowan-Perkins ferry from the 1850s to the 1970s, would provide tremendous benefits for Talladega County and others by allowing quicker access to several major roadways.

“When you have employees all over looking for jobs, and when you make jobs accessible, it benefits everybody,” he said. “When you can shorten drive time, that’s a benefit too. We’re fortunate to have industries in Sylacauga that are expanding and growing, and I think access to I-65 would be a true benefit for the southern end of the county, and actually for the whole county.”

While Talladega has been more aggressive in pursuing the bridge, Shelby County Commission Chairman Lindsey Allison said that does not mean Shelby County is opposed to it.

“We’ve never denied access to the Shelby County side,” Allison said. “We’ve always said we didn’t mind if you built the bridge, but we do not have a funding source in order for it to be made safe. It comes into a small road that is not by any means a compatible road to empty a bridge onto. Our road demands are so huge in this county, particularly in north end; we don’t have the financial resources, even before the economy went down. So, we are not opposed to the bridge, but what we’re saying is that (Talladega County) or the state will have to provide the funds to upgrade our roads to make it compatible. We don’t have county funds to contribute to it, and that has been a consistent issue.”

In 2000, the state legislature passed a special-use tax for Talladega County to collect funds specifically for construction of this bridge. The “bridge account” now holds $4,860,939, according to County Administrator Wayne Hall. The total cost of the project, including some rather extensive road improvements that would be needed on both sides of the bridge, is around $20 million, Atkinson estimated. To meet the difference, Talladega County is hoping to acquire funding from two recent state bond issues that total about $1 billion. The Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation Program, which requires a 20 percent local match, and the Rural Alabama Match Project can both be used for county infrastructure projects, Atkinson said.

“We’ve seen an opportunity with highway funds available, and if we don’t seize the moment now, I can’t tell you when might get another chance,” he said. “We have to use every asset at our disposal to create jobs and opportunities for industries in this area, and the benefits may be further reaching than that too, into Clay and Coosa counties.”

Atkinson said the Commission is also seeking support from the State Department of Transportation, which is looking to alleviate traffic on U.S. 280.

“This would take some 18-wheelers and passenger cars off 280,” he said. “A lot go at 459 to get to 165 or I-20, and this might be a benefit there as well.”

District 1 Shelby County Commissioner Corley Ellis said they are always willing to sit down and discuss the issues with the Talladega County Commission.

“If all the safety concerns were addressed through our Highway Department, and money was not an issue, then knowing what I know now, I would have a hard time opposing the bridge,” Ellis said. “There obviously is some benefit to linking any communities together.”

Atkinson said he plans to speak with Shelby County soon to work toward an agreement.

“This is something that has to be agreed upon on both sides,” he said. “We cannot build a bridge without their help and support, and with the opportunities we have right now, we can’t afford not to try to make it happen.”

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© 2013