The long-closed Old Highway 20 bridge in Limestone County is now reopen to traffic after a four-year, four-month wait.
The two-lane bridge had been closed since the Christmas Day 2015 flood. Water rushing through Limestone Creek knocked out a footer and left the bridge underwater for about a week.
In addition to offering a shortcut to local farmers and commuters trying to avoid gridlock on Interstate 565, the bridge will serve as a main artery to and from the Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. plant under construction in southeastern Limestone County.
"Relieved" is probably the best way to describe District 3 Commissioner Jason Black's response to the reopening Thursday.
"I am completely relieved," said Black, whose district includes the bridge. "I didn't even drive over the bridge. I was thinking I would be the first one over the bridge, but after we passed inspection, I just turned around and went home."
The only requirement prior to final approval Thursday was to add less than a half-inch of gravel to the shoulders in spots to bring them up to the pavement, he said.
Eutaw Construction Co. of Madison, Mississippi, built the structure. Morell Engineering of Athens designed it, and they "did a freaking amazing job," Black said.
The original bridge served the county well. Built in the 1930s under Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal agency, the Works Progress Administration, the bridge was well-engineered and very solid.
"They don't build bridges like that anymore," Black said. At one time, there was a plaque on the old bridge designating it as a WPA project, but it was stolen, he said.
The final cost of the bridge was about $1.9 million, Black said. The scope of the project and the dance around some federally protected snails that inhabit the stream below the bridge made it costly.
"We had to make the bridge a free span rather than one with pylons under it, which made it more expensive," he said. "It is also much wider and longer than it was."
Workers weren't allowed to extract the old pylons supporting the span. They had to saw the 3-by-3-foot concrete supports, leaving them just at water level so they wouldn't disrupt the water flow or the snails, he said.
Although Black bears no ill will toward the snails, he unofficially renamed the new span the "Red Tape Bridge."
The bridge cost Limestone County nothing but time and stress. Eighty percent of the cost was covered by federal relief funds and the remaining 20% was split three ways by the county, the city of Huntsville and the Alabama Department of Transportation. However, the county then applied for and received another grant to cover its portion, Black said.
"The bridge isn't even in the city of Huntsville, and they gave us $200,000 to $250,000 just to make sure the bridge was ready for Toyota Mazda," he said.
Black gave a special callout to two officials for their assistance in the project.
"We'd like to thank Mr. John Cooper, the head of ALDOT, for everything he did, for helping us get the money and helping us pay for it, and also Tommy Battle, mayor of Huntsville. He was super, too."