DUNCAN BRIDGE - Seven months after state legislators brought news to Winston County, that the state would take over maintenance and upkeep of 60-year-old Duncan Bridge, the official transfer took place Monday, June 15, celebrated by congregating of state and local officials at the blue steel bridge spanning Smith Lake.
State Senators Greg Reed and Garlan Gudger were joined by State Representative Tim Wadsworth and representatives of the Winston County Commission and road department for the official announcement.
The agreement between the state of Alabama, State Department of Transportation and Winston County means the state as of June 15, took over all costs related to maintenance and upkeep of Duncan Bridge.
The state has also assumed responsibility of County Road 41, from the mile marker on the Arley side of the bridge all the way across the bridge about a mile to the Walker County line on the southern portion, state officials said.
Transfer of the maintenance and upkeep from the county to state was made possible thanks to gas tax resources available under Rebuild Alabama, along with a good relationship between Winston County’s state delegation working with state officials.
In fact, the need for more and better state roads is the theme of Rebuild Alabama, an infrastructure improvement project proposed by Governor Kay Ivey in 2019.
During the major announcement of this project, Governor Ivey said that nearly half of the state’s bridges are more than 50 years old.
The Rebuild Alabama Program proposed a 10-cent per gallon increase on gasoline in Alabama’s fuel tax, phased in over three years.
New revenue generated by the gas tax would be used for transportation infrastructure improvement, preservation and maintenance projects. A separate portion of the revenue would go to pay a bond to be issued to finance improvements to the ship channel providing access to the facilities of the Alabama State Docks, reports indicated.
Duncan Bridge, built 60 years ago when Smith Lake was formed, is one of the few remaining steel structure bridges left in state. Painted blue, the bridge’s last painting job came as a result of a federal grant assisting the Winston County Commission with costs.
When Duncan Bridge is painted, Winston County has spent $1 million in local money, noted Representative Wadsworth.
Winston County has maintained the landmark bridge for at least 50 years, incurring $50,000 to $80,000 annually in inspection costs, officials said.
If Duncan Bridge would have been replaced, Winston County would have spent $25 million to $30 million--funds that the county does not have.
“Now this financial burden is off the backs of Winston County taxpayers,” Wadsworth stressed.
“By the state taking over this bridge, and making it a state road from the Walker County line to the mile marker, that right there will take the burden off taxpayers. It will also make some improvements to the bridge too,” Wadsworth added.
Winston County Commission Chairman Roger Hayes noted the state assuming responsibility of Duncan Bridge was a major financial relief for them.
“This is a dream come true for us,” Hayes pointed out, “because if this thing failed...there was no way Winston County, there is no telling how many years this bridge would be down.”
Hayes commended all of those responsible for the transfer process. “I have been here since 1993...and even back in (former governor) Guy Hunt times, everybody would look at taking this over, but nothing was ever done,” he said.
“This group is a special group to us, because they made it happen,” Hayes continued. “This group of legislators and the Governor, the governor has to agree to take it over, and this group of legislators went to Montgomery.”
Hayes recalled that he went to Montgomery at least three times after entering office in 1993, attempting to have the financial burden of Duncan Bridge taken off the county.
Former Governor Don Siegelman, Hayes recalled, gave the county almost $1 million just to have the bridge painted.
“They have to have the bridge inspected every year or every other year. They have to dive every so often, and that’s quite expensive to do that,” Hayes pointed out.
“This is great news for Winston County,” said Commissioner David Cummings. “It’s a great financial strain on Winston County. It costs us $25,000 plus every other year just to inspect the bridge.
“It’s a very expensive bridge,” Cummings added. “If something went wrong with this bridge, you’d have between $30 million to $50 million to replace this bridge, Winston County can’t afford that. There’s no way Winston County would have the money to replace this bridge.
“It’s just a humbling experience for the state to take this over. It’s a great big burden off of Winston County,” Cummings continued.
Commissioner Bobby Everett agreed finances were a big deal for the county.
“We are going to be able to financially do some things out of our budget on the east side, that we probably wouldn’t get to eventually, because of keeping up the bridge and inspecting the bridge is costing us an X amount” said Everett.
“The situation we’re in, in our county, we are catastrophically strapped for finances,” he added. “So if the bridge goes down, and there’s 4,000 people a day go across that bridge, so that’s our interstate on the east side (41).”
Winston County Road Engineer James Glasgow noted the $15,000 the county pays every other year in inspection costs on Duncan Bridge does not include local crews’ time and equipment.
County employees during such times are doing traffic control along with providing equipment, he said.
“You are looking at a few thousand in equipment and labor on that as well,” Glasgow stated.
“From what I have been told, from some ALDOT officials, this is the largest county maintained structure in the state,” Glasgow pointed out.
“It was just a lot, a lot for Winston County to have to maintain...It is showing age..we were just strapped financially to be able to maintain this type of structure from now on,” he continued.
“The main thing is maintain it so public safety is number one,” Glasgow continued. “We just don’t have the money.”
Representative Wadsworth recalled growing up in Winston County, when Duncan Bridge did not exist.
The bridge was constructed due to Smith Lake being formed in the early 1960s. The county, however, has maintained the bridge for at least 50 of those years.
About a week before state and local officials congregated June 15, county officials signed paperwork to have maintenance and upkeep transferred to the state.
Reed referred to Duncan Bridge as an iconic symbol of Smith Lake.
“This particular project is a great project for Smith Lake in particular,” Senator Reed noted. “The recreation and the economic benefit of Smith Lake for not only Winston County, Walker County, Cullman County, it’s a great asset in our communities.
“Being able to have the state of Alabama take forever control of the responsibility for the upkeep of this bridge, is something that is going to benefit all of these communities, in particular Winston County, who has had the responsibility of maintaining the bridge,” Senator Reed.
Senator Gudger added the project is good for everyone who has property on Smith Lake and uses the lake.
“So you are talking about all surrounding, contiguous counties and the whole southeast that comes to this lake,” Gudger said, “because over time this bridge, the maintenance on it, is so expensive that any county commissioner, not just Winston County, could not be able to afford and still provide services to their constituents.
“It’s a win for Winston County for sure, but a win, win for everybody that uses this Smith Lake,” Gudger pointed out.
“This group of legislators, they will always be special in our minds,” Chairman Hayes said, “because of the work they did to get this done.”
Officials commended Governor Ivey, Highway Director John Cooper, as well as the Winston County Commission and their state delegation for working together to make this project a reality.
Initially, Wadsworth and Reed looked at the idea of going to ALDOT asking them to consider taking full responsibility for Duncan Bridge and a portion of County Road 41.
Wadsworth and Reed worked with Governor Kay Ivey on the idea, with the ultimate result being a private meeting held between state and county officials at the county courthouse.
The meeting of the minds involved ALDOT Division Engineer James Brown and Director John Cooper, who visited Winston County to meet with local officials on the idea.
During this meeting, ALDOT officials outlined four things they were willing to do for Winston County. 1) Offer an open door policy relating to any future projects of significance to the county; 2) the state would offer help and support for the commission and its engineering relating to ATRIP 2 funds.
As part of the Rebuild Alabama Act of 2019, ATRIP 2, was formed, to assist more rural counties with transportation or roadway needs.
3) A request for $166,000 in resources for industrial access grant funds focused on a roadway benefitting Great Southern Enterprises Inc.
4) The state of Alabama would forever take the responsibility of taking over upkeep and maintenance of Duncan Bridge, providing a much needed financial relief to the county, Reed continued to explain.
“We will enjoy the fruits of this bridge and easement transfer, and our Winston County’s grandchildren will enjoy the same benefits and reduced burden in the future,” Representative Wadsworth stated.
“This is a project that started on the east side of Winston County, and when you leave Walker County you are on State Highway 157, and when you touch the Winston County line, you become CR 41,” Wadsworth pointed out.
“By extending this State Highway 157 from the Walker County line, from the other side of the bridge, so it covers the culverts and railings over there, I think this is a major, major couth for Winston County,” Wadsworth added.
The Winston County Commission voted to make the formal request to allow ALDOT to assume maintenance and upkeep for Duncan Bridge at a meeting in November of 2019.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.