Commission ‘back at square one’ on Coosa River Bridge
by Emily McLain
TALLADEGA COUNTY – The County Commission is seeking ways to make its first proposed Coosa River Bridge location work after discovering a second suggested site is not feasible, the commission announced at a public meeting Thursday night in Sylacauga.

About 30 citizens attended the meeting meant to collect feedback about the second proposed location that would cross the river via McGowans Ferry Road in Childersburg and connect to Shelby County Road 25 in Wilsonville.

However, District 5 Commissioner Greg Atkinson explained that this site, which was suggested by Shelby County commissioners as a compromise to the original location at Russell Chapel Road in Fayetteville, is restricted by the Gaston Steam Plant operated by Alabama Power.

“Ten or 12 years ago, (Alabama Power) expanded operations with the mill in Wilsonville, and the coal bin has been expanded, so that’s one issue,” said Atkinson, who met with Alabama Power executives after they called him with concerns earlier this week. “The main issue is that anytime you’re dealing with a plant of that type, it has a carbon footprint and pollution or potential pollution and you have to set aside some land to offset the problems with emissions and environmental factors.”

He said about five to 10 different federal agencies have to approve any construction or changes to the land near the steam plant, and with all things considered, that location becomes cost prohibitive.

“Instead of talking about a proposed site on McGowans Ferry Road, we’re going to have to get creative and see what we can do to see the original site work. A lot of people may be glad we’re back to that original site,” Atkinson said, adding that citizen feedback is overwhelmingly positive for construction of a Coosa River bridge.

District 4 Commissioner Jimmy Roberson said it seems they are “back at square one, and if that’s the case, it’s a good thing, and the reason I say that is we have a lot of money invested there.” The county has approximately $5 million in a special-use tax account specifically for the bridge at the original location, and a change would require an act of legislature. In addition, Roberson said about $1 million from that account was spent roughly 10 years ago on preliminary construction and design work for the project.

Shelby County commissioners are not open to a bridge at the Russell Chapel Road site because of poor road conditions, safety concerns for a nearby school and increased truck traffic through downtown Columbiana, Atkinson said. Rep. Ron Johnson (R-Sylacauga) said Shelby County could pass an ordinance banning thru traffic in downtown. He also said the bridge would be “economically great for the south end of the county,” cutting many commuters’ drive time and allowing for job and industrial growth.

Atkinson said he intends to talk with Shelby County commissioners again to see where they can go from here. Meeting attendees suggested promoting the bridge plan among Shelby County businesses and citizens to get them involved. Fayetteville resident Patrick Lozito said “all the argument thus far have been why the bridge is good for here, and we need to start laying out arguments of why it’s good for Shelby County.”

Former Oak Grove Mayor Charles Merkel said the bridge would afford many development opportunities for South Shelby County.

“If they did a bullet point list of positives and negatives, they would see there’s not many negatives for them,” he said. “South Shelby County is very undeveloped, and if we just had this bridge to (Highway 145), the (state Department of Transportation) might come in and say it makes sense to put a road in straight through South Shelby County to I-65, which would make for development for that end of the county. The (South Shelby County Chamber of Commerce) should be all over this.”

Atkinson agreed and said if Shelby County constituents supported the bridge, their representatives would more than likely listen. “They may not listen to us jumping up and down over here,” he said, “but if they start jumping up and down in Shelby County, we may have a chance.”

Another public meeting to discuss the bridge proposal is set for June 22 at 2 p.m. at Fayetteville Baptist Church. Residents are encouraged to email with input on this topic.

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© 2013