Construction of the Alabama 20 overpass is scheduled to start in two months, but an opponent is trying to kill the project before it begins.

Mayor Tab Bowling said Reed Contracting Services, of Decatur, won the project with a $13.25 million bid. SJ&L was the other bidder at $13.9 million, the mayor said.

Reed’s bid was $300,000 over budget, but Bowling said the city has the funds to cover the additional cost. The city budgeted about $19 million for the project, including $14.2 million from a federal BUILD grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The city is paying for the engineering and design and obtaining rights of way for the overpass.

“We’re pleased with the bids,” Bowling said. “AECOM (the engineer and architect) said the bid is good, so we expect site work to begin in January.”

The overpass is meant to promote commercial development of the corridor by improving access to undeveloped land north and south of the highway, although property owners on the north side complain that the design harms them while benefiting the owners of 537 acres at the southwest corner of Interstate 65 and Alabama 20 in Decatur’s annexed area of Limestone County.

The city is seeking four parcels as rights of way for the planned overpass west of Interstates 65 and 565 in Decatur-annexed Limestone County.

Mitchell-Frazier Farms Limited Partnership, controlled by Sam Frazier, negotiated the sale of 11 acres south of the highway to the city for $574,000. The other three parcel owners were named by the city as defendants in an eminent domain action, and all three — the Elizabeth Marie Garrett Trust, the Fennel-Noble Trust and RaceTrac Petroleum — have filed challenges to the condemnation action in Limestone County Circuit Court.

Lawrence Weaver and John Eyster Jr., as trustees of the Garrett Trust, filed a motion last week in Limestone County to dismiss or stay the city of Decatur’s condemnation of 25 acres of Garrett Trust property for the overpass. Circuit Court Judge Chadwick Wise on Friday scheduled oral arguments on the motion for Dec. 21. No trial date has been set.

The motion alleges the city doesn’t have the right to take the property because a federally required environmental study failed to address the impact on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge property on the south side of Alabama 20.

“The crux of this case lies in the fact that this condemnation action cannot exist without federal funding that was obtained under an improper (environmental) review,” according to another motion filed last week by Garrett Trust attorney Michael Brown.

The plan for the overpass is from a defunct plan the city developed for the Sweetwater development featuring Bass Pro Shops that fell through in 2014, the motion alleges. Bass Pro had planned to build a store on the Mitchell-Frazier property south of Alabama 20.

Eyster could not be reached for comment.

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(2) comments

Gg Gg

It would be really helpful if the writer would actually state where this expensive and contested overpass is located. Highway 20 runs the full length of Decatur. Toward the end of the article, finally it is noted that it will be near I65, but still not specific. Also missing: is the overpass a modification of 20 or is it crossing over 20 to improve some other road.

The cost for this effort is $40k per acre. That's a big investment without obvious payback.

Byron Johnson

[angry] Another road to nowhere @taxpayers expense.

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