Another Tennessee River bridge, the conversion of Alabama 20 into a limited access highway and increased river access got support Monday in the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce’s local public policy agenda.
The chamber held the first of three meetings on its annual agenda, which it uses to promote issues that it believes help county and city businesses. Monday’s meeting focused on local issues.
Previous chamber policy agendas supported a new river bridge from Wilson Street Northwest to Alabama 20, just east of U.S. 31. Local residents rejected a $444 million toll bridge in 2015, but local officials then proposed getting federal funding for a bridge.
However, Mayor Tab Bowling suggested the chamber change the focus of its local policy agenda, instead supporting a bridge from just west of Nucor, in Lawrence County, across to Huntsville-Brownsferry Road in Limestone County.
Bowling said it would provide another route for freight trucks headed to or leaving Madison County. He said he didn’t have an estimated cost of a bridge near Nucor.
“This would take a lot of pressure off of our (U.S. 31) bridge, especially with the Mazda-Toyota plant expected to add 1,000 cars a day to our highways,” Bowling said.
Bowling said a committee of representatives from Morgan, Lawrence, Limestone and Madison counties planned to meet last spring but the meeting was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I need to reschedule that meeting now,” Bowling said.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he met with state Transportation Director John Cooper two weeks ago and the discussion was about the need for a river bridge. The newest location west of Nucor was part of the discussion.
“It’s certainly something we’ll be working on, especially since we know it’s got the support of the mayor,” Orr said.
The chamber committee did not support a specific location for the bridge, instead “supporting another Tennessee River bridge.”
The chamber committee also continued its support of a proposal to turn Alabama 20 in Limestone County into a limited-access highway.
The city is working on building a $19 million overpass near Interstate 65 that will cross the east end of Alabama 20. Although City Engineer Carl Prewitt said a limited-access highway isn’t in the immediate plans, previous plans have centered on creating a highway with only three access points.
Landowners north of Alabama 20 oppose the limited-access proposal because they would lose more of their property to right-of-way acquisition, and thus lose acreage that could otherwise be developed.
John Eyster is a co-trustee with local attorney Larry Weaver of the Garrett Trust, which owns property on the northeast end of Alabama 20. The trust filed a federal lawsuit against the city and state over development plans for the highway that include the overpass.
Eyster said Monday it’s disappointing the chamber would support the limited-access proposal that’s been in the city’s plans for 20 years.
“They need to look at this project more closely and decide if they want this just to be an easy drive to Huntsville or if they want stores, shopping and all of the amenities that might make it so people don’t have to go to Huntsville,” Eyster said.
With the project starting this summer, the goal of widening Interstate 565 to six lanes has been partially achieved. However, Orr said the project falls short. He asked for support for extending the east end of the widening from County Line Road to Wall-Triana Road.
“They’re creating a bottleneck where it goes down to four lanes and it’s only going to get worse,” Orr said.
The chamber committee added support for Decatur Utilities’ plan for accelerating replacement of the city’s aging sewer lines, which have contributed to millions of gallons of sewer overflows in recent years.
The DU board is considering proposals on how quickly they would move with the project. The more quickly they move, the higher the cost and the more likely rate increases will be used to fund the project. The City Council is waiting for the DU board to make a recommendation.
Bowling said the city will need to be ready to repair the streets as the project moves forward.
The local chamber agenda also supports more public use of the river banks, and Orr said a group led by Jeanne Payne was recently formed to study this issue. Payne said her group just started meeting so she wasn’t ready to comment.
Orr said Payne’s group is studying the south bank of the river between the U.S. 31 bridge and Ingalls Harbor. The goal of increased public access to riverfront property is included in the One Decatur comprehensive plan approved in 2018.
“Most of our riverfront property is taken up by TVA, Wheeler (National Wildlife) Refuge or industries,” Orr said. “It’s critical that we have improved access to the river because it’s a tremendous resources that’s underutilized and our access is somewhat limited.”
The chamber supported creating a quiet zone for locomotive horns along the CSX railroad between the Moulton Road and Second Street Southeast crossings for the Morgan County Farmers Market.
The beautification of Sixth Avenue from the river bridge to Delano Park continued to receive chamber support. The chamber is one of the groups that paid for a study of the corridor.
At 2 p.m. Oct. 8, the chamber will discuss state issues, and federal policy issues will be discussed at 10 a.m. Nov. 17. The chamber executive board will then finalize and approve the policy agenda after the three meetings.