FLORENCE — A proposal to bridge Cypress Creek from West College Street to Alabama 20 is not only of keen interest to city leaders but to the Alabama Department of Transportation, as well.
For Florence, the $20 million project would open a new avenue into the heart of the city and improve access to the sports complex on the west side of Alabama 20. City officials say they will apply for grant money administered by the state to complete the project.
For the Transportation Department, it would provide a modern route from Alabama 20 to U.S. 72 East and U.S. 43 via Dr. Hicks Boulevard and Florence Boulevard. It could also mean the department could push a long-discussed overpass replacement on Mitchell Boulevard near O’Neal Bridge toward the bottom of the priority list.
“This really is an important project,” City Council President Dick Jordan said. “It opens up the whole west Florence area out to Florence Boulevard and U.S. 72. It gives all of us several options (on Alabama 20) instead of a single-use project like an overpass.”
The city’s plan calls for expanding West College Street to five lanes from Dr. Hicks Boulevard to West Mobile Street, building a four-lane bridge over Cypress Creek, and extending the five-lane street from the new bridge to Alabama 20 at the intersection of Gunwaleford Road, where the sports complex is located.
Given Alabama’s shrinking budgets and a Republican-dominated Legislature and governor’s office that won’t consider revenue increases, grants from the federal government and innovative road design have become paramount to the transportation system.
“Everyone in the future, from the federal level down, will have to think a lot more about access management and how we plan for growth along traffic corridors so we don’t have congestion like we have along some of our larger routes,” said Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“The best approach to managing traffic is when local officials are involved in avoiding problems, helping to address concerns when they arise,” he said. “It sounds like (Florence) has proposed a project that would help with the long-term issue of access.”
Harris said he was not aware of any discussions about shelving the overpass project.
James Brown, Department of Transportation Division 2 engineer, said no studies have been conducted on the effect the West College Street project would have on Alabama 20, but he said it appears to be a project that would benefit everyone.
“Personally, I think it is a good project,” he said.
Florence will apply for money in the third round of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) in May. The program uses federal transportation money for road and bridge improvements, with local governments paying a 20-percent match.
Bill Batson, city engineer, said he and other local officials met with state transportation representatives recently and were told the other bridge across Cypress Creek, a two-lane bridge built about a decade ago, would not meet all the current standards.
Mayor Mickey Haddock has expressed cautious optimism that Florence will get at least a portion of the money necessary to begin the bridge project.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.
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