Governor visits area bridges

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Staff Writer

Sept. 19, 2000 10 PM

SHELLHORN ­ Pike County has 45 bridges which school buses cannot cross and Gov. Don Siegelman wants to change that.

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Siegelman visited Boyd’s Mill Creek Bridge on County Road 13 Tuesday morning to see for himself just how much it is in disrepair.

The bridge just off County Road 1/Shellhorn Highway is only one of many bridges in Pike County which may be repaired or replaced if Amendment One passes on Nov. 7, Siegelman said.

The governor is proposing the state put $250 million into county roads and bridges, which would be the largest investment of its kind for the state since Big Jim Folsom’s Farm to Market road project about 50 years ago.

The plan is a part of Amendment One, which will provide for a greater return on Alabama’s oil and gas royalty income and allow Alabama to invest in roads and bridges; fund agricultural research at Auburn, Alabama A&M and Tuskegee; and revitalize the Alabama State Docks while promoting economic growth and expansion.

The constitutional amendment would allow the state to use 28 percent of new revenues from the royalty payments while existing revenue from past royalties will not be spent.

"Amendment One is the only way to fix these bridges without raising taxes," Siegelman said.

The 77 bridges in Pike County in need of repair would receive more than $6.3 million from Siegelman’s plan.

"This part of the state is cut off from the rest of the state," Siegelman said referring to economic growth being halted by travel conditions in Pike County.

Pointing up the road, Pike County Engineer Herb Huner said one of the impacts is on the poultry industry.

"Feed trucks can’t come through here," Huner said while standing on the Boyd’s Mill Creek Bridge which has a posted weight limit of three tons.

Fixing the bridges, Siegelman said is "important for safety" as well as economic growth.

Of his visit to Pike County, Siegelman said it "has been good for me to get out" and see what counties are dealing with regarding bridge repairs and replacements.

"It will be a big project," Siegelman said of replacing and repairing the bridges. "Amendment One is the way we’re planning to pay for it."

Pike County Commissioner Karen Berry spoke to the governor at the Boyd’s Mill Creek Bridge, which is in her district.

"If it (Amendment One) passes, we’ve already got our plans ready," Berry said.

Siegelman is hoping the voters of Pike County will support the amendment so they can reap the benefits.

In Pike County, 37 bridges are not able to withstand the weight of school buses, 18-wheelers and emergency vehicles.

Two of the unsafe bridges in Pike County force school bus drivers to travel more than 33 miles out of their way each day with busloads of children.

"I’ve got kids getting on the bus at six o’clock," Berry said.

Across the state, school buses have to detour more than 17,000 miles because of unsafe bridges, costing the state $7 million dollars each year.

"Vehicles weighing 15 tons or more are prohibited from traveling over these bridges," Siegelman said. "These literal ‘road blocks’ result in lengthy detours of 18-wheelers and emergency response vehicles."

But, making safer travel is combined with saving some landmarks, such as the mill on Boyd’s Creek.

In 1834, Clay Pitts constructed the first mill on Boyd’s Mill Creek. Through the years, four mills were built on the millpond, the last operated for 65 years until around 1970.

Now, the dilapidated structure is one residents want to preserve for historical significance.

"We’re in dire need, but it is a historical site," Berry said, adding she wants the preserve the old mill and bridge and having a sturdier bridge for travel purposes.

Huner estimates it will cost $150,000 to move the old grist mill bridge.

He also said that particular bridge is the "highest priority" on the state list.

If the plan is enacted, Pike County is second only to Mobile County in the amount of money it will receive for bridges.