HALEYVILLE - A ray of hope has been given about the possibility that federal funding could be used to complete a four-lane highway project that has sat dormant for years, but the process must cover many miles and cross several rough bridges before it can become a reality.
Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri announced at the April 14, Haleyville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting that U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), had notified the Alabama Department of Transportation that he was planning to
provide funding for the bypass project.
“How much of that I don’t know will take place,” Sunseri said. “They are working on funding the Haleyville bypass.
Aderholt is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee.
“That is an exciting
thing we have been working on since 1955,” Sunseri pointed. “That’s the major announcement.”
The four-lane highway would begin near the Highway 43 and Highway 13 intersection near Spruce Pine and travel south near Phil Campbell and Bear Creek, pass through a portion of Haleyville en route to the Natural Bridge area for easy access to Interstate 22. The total project is 18 miles.
A disagreement about funds used for other major highway projects in Alabama through the years brought the bypass project to a screeching halt years ago, local officials have indicated. ALDOT had worked on the project beginning at Spruce Pine, clearing land and graveling lanes in a corridor, constructing bridges over the railroad at Spruce Pine and constructing a concrete bridge spanning Bear Creek at the Bates Landing area.
The corridor was cleared and a skeleton form of the road was made all the way to County Highway 79 just north of Dime Road. From there, the project stopped and has remained halted over 20 years.
Erosion and natural growth are taking their toll on the abandoned corridor, which has also become known as a hang out for illegal activity, local mayors said.
“We have been waiting on it for 55 years,” chamber member Dr. Kevin Palmer said. “Can you give us any kind of dates?”
“It will take numerous years and numerous amounts of funding to complete it,” Sunseri responded. “But, it’s a major project, and it would really help us out for our industries as far as travel.”
Chamber President Mike Evans noted that efforts were made between the Chamber and city in working with Aderholt to find an alternative source of funding for the project than the state.
“We’ve been trying to get some answers from the state and from ALDOT on completing this project. We’ve been told ‘no’ every time, the funds were not there and ALDOT would not be spending any additional money on this road,” Evans pointed out.
At this point, the focus shifted to attempt to secure federal funds through Aderholt, Evans said.
“That appeared to be our best shot,” he said. “Maybe the best time would have been when all of this started in 1955 for the state to complete this, but it didn’t get done, so the second best time is now.
“I think it would be incredible to connect Winston County with I-22, which is obviously going to take you to Birmingham or Memphis and be connected up north where you could go to Nashville or Huntsville,” Evans added. “I think that puts us in a prime area for growth,” Evans pointed out. “This is something that will affect our kids and grandkids.”
Bypass project a
priority for Aderholt
Aderholt explained in a statement to the Alabamian that the bypass project is a priority for him.
“I certainly understand the benefit it would have on the area,” Aderholt stated. “My staff and I are looking for federal funding opportunities that could work for this project, and also ways to work with the Alabama Department of Transportation to see it completed.”
The initial funding for the Haleyville bypass came from dedicated federal appropriations the likes of which ALDOT has not continued to receive, pointed out ALDOT Spokesman Tony Harris.
“We look forward to the day when we can commit more funding to improve four-lane connectivity in northwest Alabama. We appreciate Congressman Aderholt’s interest and support for new federal funding opportunities,” Harris pointed out.
“Communities across west Alabama have long desired a four-lane north-south corridor,” Harris added. “Ultimately, our goal is to have a four-lane corridor through west Alabama from Mobile to the Shoals.”
However, the process of obtaining federal funding and the project getting underway is complicated, emphasized Carson Clark, communications director for Aderholt.
“The Congressman is committed to look for every possible source of federal funding for this project,” Clark stressed. “If, in the future, federal funding is available, he wants to take the lead and do all he can to see that funding comes for the Haleyville bypass, I-22 connector, whatever you want to call that.”
Clark stressed, however that if, in the future, a federal account would apply to the project, Aderholt would be interested in securing funds from there.
“The funding sources we’re looking at would be what we know as earmarked,” Clark emphasized. “We don’t even know if those are to be in existence next year.”
Funding from the Federal Infrastructure Bill would be funds that would go from the federal government to the state government which would trickle down to ALDOT, officials noted. However, ALDOT has shown, “absolutely no desire to spend ALDOT funds toward the Haleyville bypass,” Clark pointed out.
“Congressman Aderholt was looking at what we call earmarks to go toward this project,” Clark stated. “Even if Congressman Aderholt only gets 15 earmark requests a year, all of those projects have to be completed within one year.
“There is no way that this (bypass project) will be completed in one year, so we would have to work with ALDOT to come up with phase 1, which might be a year-one project, then come back the next year, phase 2, if earmarks even exist,” Clark continued to emphasize.
Even if Aderholt submits his 15 earmark requests, they have to pass through a transportation subcommittee for a vote followed by a vote by the full appropriations committee, followed by a vote from the full House of Representatives, officials explained.
Then, the House bill has to conference with the Senate’s version of the bill. If all of these things occur, then it would go to the President’s desk for his signature, federal officials further explained.
“We don’t want to be in the business of misinforming people that this money is a certainty or that it’s anywhere close to being checked to Alabama for the Haleyville bypass,” Clark pointed out.
“This is a priority for (the congressman). This is something he would love to see done,” Clark said. “It’s just that a lot of pieces would have to fall into place for this to happen.”
Local legislators comment
State Representative Tracy Estes told those present at a Haleyville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting a few months ago that he had an alternative roadway plan that would hopefully lead to the completion of the dormant bypass project.
“I am thrilled, if (Congressman Aderholt) can secure the money to do it. I fully support it because it’s long overdue,” Estes began. “He carries a lot of weight in Washington now and, if he can pull this off for us, he is to be commended for it.”
After Estes was informed by ALDOT at least two years ago that the local bypass project was a no-go, he formed a plan known as the I-22 spur, which could provide a direct connection to that interstate.
The spur would travel from Haleyville south down to the Eldridge area to connect to I-22, Estes said. “It would start on (Highway) 13, then be widened to a four-lane,” he said.
“Once we got that done, then it would almost put us in a position where they had no choice but to connect to the Spruce Pine bypass,” Estes explained.
Before Estes took office, he met with Sunseri along with State Senator Garlan Gudger and asked about major needs, to which Sunseri responded the completion of the bypass traveling from Spruce Pine was needed, he said.
Gudger stated that ALDOT has prioritized more objectively during the past 12 years than any time in its history.
“The fact is that funding remains scarce, even after the passage of the Rebuild Alabama Act,” Gudger stated in reference to the state act allotting funds to counties across the state for road and bridge infrastructure needs.
“Prioritizing highway projects isn’t helped by the fact that we’re seeing one of the worst periods of construction inflation in recent times,” Gudger pointed out.
Gudger noted that it took a federal discretionary grant and a local contribution, along with ALDOT funds, to complete a very short Highway 157 project in Cullman where a pair of bridges were finished, but unused for several years.
“We need to see progress on the Haleyville bypass, but it needs to be a joint effort between all the parties balanced with statewide priorities,” Gudger stressed.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.