The owners of a section of Alabama 20 property are trying to stop the construction of a $20.2 million overpass in Decatur-annexed Limestone County.
Decatur attorney Larry Weaver and former resident John Eyster Jr. raised their objections in a Sept. 3 letter, obtained by The Daily, to Christopher Shaun Capps of the Alabama Division of the Federal Highway Administration.
“Our goal in writing this letter is to ask that the proposed (Highway 20 interchange) be stopped immediately,” write Weaver and Eyster, who are trustees of the James H. Garrett and Elizabeth Marie Garrett trusts.
“We are requesting this stoppage for legal, strategic and plain common-sense reasons. As you will see, what seems to be an innocuous little interchange is part of a larger pattern of actions that will not enhance but instead will stifle the development potential of the area. The plan also removes access to properties which landowners currently have today,” the letter continues.
Weaver and Eyster, who also owns about 10 acres along Alabama 20 just west of Calvary Assembly of God, could not be reached for comment. In the letter, they request a halt to federal funding of the overpass.
The city received a $14.2 million federal grant earlier this year and is spending close to $6 million on rights-of-way acquisition and engineering on the overpass that’s planned just east of Bibb-Garrett Road.
Sam Frazier Sr., trustee of the Mitchell-Frazier Family Trust, said Thursday he received a copy of the letter. His family is the majority landowner along the stretch of Alabama 20 between U.S. 31 and Interstate 565.
The south end of the overpass would be on 558 acres of Mitchell-Frazier land, once the planned site of a Bass Pro Shops development. The original plan for an overpass would have provided access to the development, but the development dissolved in late 2014 and the overpass was never built. Plans for an overpass resurfaced in December when the city of Decatur was awarded a $14.2 million grant for the project.
Frazier, who said he has received more interest lately in developing the property, said he doesn’t have a problem with the overpass because “at least it serves my property. I do know we’re skeptical, as they are, on why they need 8 acres of rights of way.”
The north end of the overpass will be on the Garrett property, which runs back to Garrett Road. The project will require the demolition of Apple Lane Farms on Garrett property and a Chevron gas station on Mitchell-Frazier property.
Dewayne Hellums, of the Decatur-area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the group of local mayors and county commissioners who make up the agency have been planning to turn Alabama 20 into a limited access highway. Local officials have been unsuccessful in getting Interstate 565 extended to U.S. 31 in Decatur.
Hellums said support or opposition from landowners for limited access roads usually depends on where their property is.
“Some people like limited access and some want cuts every 100 feet,” Hellums said.
The letter says the interchange “was developed using a flawed environmental process” that violates federal regulations.
The Garrett letter says the interchange plans are old and were “simply dusted off” and presented when the area became so successful in economic development with the attraction of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, Remington, Bocar, Polaris and others.
“The continuing pattern of events, pointing all along toward a limited access highway, is not lost on the property owners, who are very concerned about the future development potential of their property,” the letter says.
The authors claim that the existing overpass plan and the conversion of Alabama 20 into a limited access highway would lead to "diminished development potential for 4,000 acres of developable private property. ... The developable area is larger than downtown Decatur and downtown Huntsville combined."
The letter says there are at least five other highway and access alternatives that are better than the current plan and would be a catalyst to urban development. These include:
• A multi-lane boulevard, in which numerous north-south streets could connect to Alabama 20.
• A "do-nothing alternative," to give more time for public input.
• An elevated highway, in which Alabama 20 would be raised and numerous north-south roads could run under it.
• A partially elevated highway with more than two north-south connections.
• A partially elevated highway with only two north-south connections.
Project Engineer Eddie Lobdell, of AEComm, said all phases of the project “have been closely monitored” by the Federal Highway Administration.
“It was mandatory that we follow all of the FHWA’s policies and procedures,” Lobdell said.
Lobdell said he tried to limit the amount of right of way that will be needed while still meeting the design criteria of the overpass.