State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, believes it’s time to make plans to replace the southbound Hudson Memorial Bridge span over the Tennessee River into Decatur.
Orr brought up the issue Thursday at the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce’s annual review of its public policy agenda.
The chamber uses the agenda to promote local, state and federal issues that benefit Decatur and Morgan County businesses.
Orr said he has already broached the idea with an Alabama Department of Transportation official of replacing the two-lane U.S. 31 bridge with a three-lane southbound bridge. Orr said he was not sure how much a new bridge would cost.
“It went into use in 1961, so we need to start making plans to replace it in the next 10 years,” Orr said.
Orr said he and the state official also talked about adjustments that can be made to the Alabama 20 overpass next to Hospitality Park and adding a third lane to the southbound lanes to the U.S. 31 causeway without doing construction.
“All it would take is repainting lanes,” Orr said.
Orr said the overpass is also aging and needs to be replaced, “but there’s enough room to change it from one to two lanes.”
The one-lane overpass backs up during rush-hour traffic, particularly in the evening, almost every weekday.
Chamber board chairman Wade Weaver said he recently waited about an hour to cross the overpass on his way back to Decatur from Huntsville.
According to Orr, the state official said his department engineers looked at the overpass and agreed there is room to add a second lane. However, they were concerned about the impact of merging the lanes on the causeway, especially near Riverwalk Marina.
“There’s more room there and usually there’s not a lot of traffic on U.S. 31 coming from Athens,” said state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. “It may work better to merge on the causeway.”
Collins said the traffic jams affect commerce and keep the city from growing as it should.
The chamber members in attendance made only a few changes to last year's public policy agenda. Most of the changes focused on eliminating items like the “Sunday Brunch” bill that passed in the Legislature and was implemented this year in Decatur.
One bullet item, “promoting projects that could enhance bicycle and pedestrian usage like the Bill Sims and the Singing River Bike trails,” could benefit from a new U.S. 31 southbound bridge.
Plans call for the 70-mile Singing River Bike Trail to go through Decatur north of the river, but organizers have yet to find a way across the river. A new bridge could include a bike lane for the trail, Orr said.