Road closure for bridge work could hurt area businesses
by Elsie Hodnett
PELL CITY – Some local business managers feel closing a portion of U.S. 78 to replace the Wolf Creek Bridge will hurt sales.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Khan Mahmood, store manager for the Eden Chevron. “The majority of our business comes from Eden.”

Gary Smith, District 6 manager for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said the Wolf Creek Bridge project should be let for bid early this year.

“It’s not on the list for January and there is no estimated date to let the project for bid that I know of, except that it should be early this year,” he said.

Smith said the bridge was likely built in the 1940s or earlier. The Wolf Creek Bridge is located south of Victory Christian School and north of downtown Pell City, along U.S. 78.

“They usually stamp the date the bridge was built, but we couldn’t find a date on this bridge,” he said.

Smith said the bridge is sound, but is considered functionally obsolete by ALDOT because it does not have a shoulder and is not wide enough.

“Part of the project is to widen it to put a 10-foot shoulder on each side,” he said. “It will make the bridge 44 feet wide, instead of the 24 feet wide that it is now.”

Smith said the existing bridge is 170.58 feet long.

“The new bridge is 225 feet, which will give a larger opening and allow for more water to flow under the bridge,” he said. “I don’t know if that bridge has ever flooded, but the wider opening should help reduce the possibility of flooding should heavy rains occur.”

Smith said once the project is let for bid, it must be approved by the ALDOT engineer in Montgomery, which usually takes about two months. The project should take approximately six to eight months to complete. Traffic will have to detour to Wolf Creek Road North, South or U.S. 231 while the bridge is closed.

“Why can’t they build a temporary bridge to the side of it?” Mahmood asked. “My concern is closing the bridge will hurt business. I don’t think it will close the gas station, but we don’t get that much traffic from the interstate because there are no restaurants on this exit. People want food and gas.”

Smith said it is not feasible to build a temporary bridge.

“It’s too expensive to put in a temporary bridge, and by the time you built the temporary bridge, you could about have the bridge replaced,” he said.

Naushad Lightwala, manager of the Eden Shell Station, said about half his customers come from Eden and about half from I-20.

“I think it will have a big impact on sales,” he said. “I don’t think it will shut down the station, but you never know.”

H.L. Stevens, of Eden, said the bridge closure would affect a lot of people.

“We will all have to detour to get to the interstate,” he said. “And it will affect the ambulance system. It will take longer for emergency responders to get to the people they need to help.”

Stevens said it would also cost working people more gas money and time by having to detour to get to I-20.

He also inquired why ALDOT couldn’t build a temporary bridge or some other way for traffic to get by.

“It’s going to affect the hospital—they come down this way to get on the interstate,” he said. “And there is the nursing home, the school, dialysis center and more.”

Christina Fingar, manager of Fox’s Pizza, said drivers cross the bridge for a lot of deliveries.

“I don’t think it will be too bad, because there are plenty of ways to get down there without using the bridge,” she said. “It just won’t be as convenient and may add a little bit to delivery times.”

Fingar said a lot of business comes from the Pell City side, so she doesn’t think the bridge closure should affect sales too badly.

“Even with the bridge closed, we will still be able to deliver to our customers—definitely,” she said.

Contact Elsie Hodnett at ehodnett@dailyhome.com.

© 2013