The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 25, 2013

County revving up roadway projects

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— Several Limestone County road and bridge projects are slated for this spring and summer, including resurfacing, adding lights, widening roads and replacing bridges.

This spring the county will install flashing warning lights at the intersections of Capshaw and Jones roads, Zehner and Quinn and Easter Ferry and Coffman with federal high-risk rural road funds. District 2 funds will pay for a traffic signal at the Capshaw and Sanderson roads.

By this summer, resurfacing and widening work will be underway on Thomas L. Hammonds Road from U.S. 31 to Sandy Road with state industrial access funds, and Holt Road from Bain Road to Wales Street will receive safety improvements and widening with federal road money.

ATRIP first round

The county and the city of Athens received nearly $1.2 million in the first round of Alabama Transportation Road and Improvement Program funding announced in May 2012.

ATRIP allows sponsoring counties and municipalities to improve roadways with a 20 percent local match. The 80 percent state match is funded by GARVEE bonds, which provide the state with immediate access to future federal dollars to pay for road and bridge projects.

Local ATRIP projects include a $475,000 bridge on Mooresville Road over French’s Mill Creek with a county match of $95,000, and about $972,000 to resurface Lucas Ferry and Sanderfer roads from Alabama 99 to U.S. 31 with a city match of about $972,000.

The bridge replacement on Mooresville Road is still pending the outcome of an endangered species study by the county and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to County Engineer Richard Sanders.

Second round

In second-round funding announced on Feb. 4, Limestone County corralled more than $3.5 million from ATRIP.

Athens-sponsored projects included about $519,000 to resurface Lindsay Lane from Brownsferry Road to Alabama 251 with a city match of nearly $104,000. The city also received $590,000 with a local match of $118,000 for a bridge on Cambridge Lane over French’s Mill Creek.

The town of Elkmont secured $407,000 to resurface Upper Fort Hampton Road from Alabama 172 to Sandlin Road with a local match of $81,400.

A joint $206,000 project by the county and Athens to improve the intersection at Huntsville-Brownsferry Road and U.S. has a local match of $41,2000.

The county was approved for a $522,000 bridge on Lucas Ferry Road over Mud Creek ($104,400 local match), and two bridges for $762,000 on Ragsdale Creek Road over Ragsdale Creek ($152,400).

The county also was approved for $575,000 to resurface Elk River Mills Road from Baker Hill Road to Alabama 99 ($115,000), and $869,000 to resurface Nick Davis Road from Mooresville Road to Sanderson Road ($173,800).

Central unit system

Another development that would affect county road and bridge projects is the possibility of the county switching from a district system to a centralized unit system.

A central unit system would consolidate the use of equipment and personnel, and funnel all roadway improvements through the engineering department. Currently, each of the four commissioners supervises a district with its own tool shed, road crews and equipment. The districts are funded by gasoline tax revenue, which is split evenly among them.

“With a central unit system, an engineer would schedule for all the districts but we would still have the district tool sheds. Down the road we might end up with two sheds on (U.S.) 72, with one north of County Line Road and one south of it,” said District 1 Commissioner Gary Daly. “I can see where you would save money and avoid duplication of services, and I don’t see any negatives. If it was set up and run right, and if it was going to save money, I would vote for (a central unit system).

During the past few months, members of the Limestone County Commission have not made any public comments about switching to a central unit system. A proposal to consider the switch was removed from consideration last September to allow people more time to study the pros and cons of swapping systems.

Chairman Stanley Menefee, who told The News Courier last August that switching to a central system potentially could save the county $2 million annually, said Limestone is one of the few remaining counties in the state to still use the district system.

After a meeting last month, Menefee said the central unit system is prevalent statewide because the role of commissioners has expanded in the past two decades.

“Commissioners aren’t just road commissioners anymore,” said Menefee, who has served as a commissioner and a chairman.

Other developments

The deadline for the third round of ATRIP is Friday, May 31. Qualified projects not selected in previous funding rounds are once again eligible to be submitted.

This fall the county plans to use federal road money to resurface Mooresville Road from Thach Road to Sweet Springs Road.

Commissioner Steve Turner launched a Facebook page titled “District 2 Limestone County Commission” earlier this month to provide updates to the district’s residents. Residents already have used the page to ask questions and request road improvements.