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Widening Spring Avenue
Councilman says $5.06 million project not needed

By Chris Paschenko · 340-2442

Decatur isn’t in jeopardy of losing more than $4 million in federal funds to widen Spring Avenue Southwest even though the $5.06 million project was authorized three years ago, officials said.

One of the reasons for the delay, City Councilman Ray Metzger said, is that the project to widen Spring Avenue to four lanes between Cedar Lake to Day roads has a low priority.

“When you go to the North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments, it’s still on the report they give out once or twice a year, but it’s a real low priority,” Metzger said. “I wasn’t for it because there’s not much traffic on that two-lane section of road.”

Familiar territory

Metzger said he is familiar with traffic flow there because he lives on Spring Avenue. Although the road contains nine churches and residential subdivisions, he said the only time he sees congestion is Sundays.

Metzger admits The Farm residential development and Decatur Heritage Christian Academy, if the school moves to Spring Avenue, could increase traffic flow.

“It’s not a burden right now, but it might be needed sooner or later,” Metzger said. “But as far as me getting out of my driveway, the only time I have to really stop mainly is when people are going to church on Sunday. There are a lot of other places that need it worse.”

When asked what other roads should be a higher priority, Metzger said he needed to research the matter further.

Authorized in 2004

Although the Spring Avenue project received federal authorization in 2004, the city has yet to acquire the private property necessary to begin moving utilities and start construction.

Johnny Harris, a division engineer with the state Department of Transportation, said his department sent Decatur officials a letter about a year ago, inquiring why the city hadn’t purchased right of way along Spring Avenue Southwest.

“We wrote the city asking to review records because there’s been no activity on that project,” Harris said. “We were just advising them the funds could be a candidate for another project if there was no activity.”

The funds designated likely wouldn’t be cancelled, Harris said, just possibly redirected, meaning the project could be further delayed.

Harris said the state transportation department is overseeing project funds, $667,000 for right of way acquisition, $500,000 for utility relocation and $3.9 million for construction. The Metropolitan Planning Organization will distribute the funds he said.

Decatur would need to fund 20 percent of the project, Harris said.

Canceling a project?

Dewayne Hellums, director of transportation at NARCOG, said he’s never seen an MPO project canceled but has seen funding reallocated to future years.

“I don’t think the funding is in danger,” Hellums said. “We need to talk to the city engineer to see if anything’s been done on the project.”

Mark Petersohn, who was hired in August as the director of the city’s Engineering and Public Works departments, said the City Council approved $32,834 in April 2006 to research deeds and update right-of-way maps. The council approved another resolution in May 2007, increasing the research funds by $18,000 to Gresham Smith and Partners, a Birmingham architectural and engineering firm, which is finalizing right-of-way designs.

“For the design, what that incorporated was additional money for six total property-line changes, two right-of-way changes and 31 property-owner changes,” Petersohn said. “There were changes to 39 of the 58 tracks.”

Assistant City Attorney Kelly Butler said the city would need legal descriptions of the right of way in order to proceed with purchasing the property.

Construction in 2008?

Petersohn said utility relocation is slated for this year with construction starting in 2008, weather permitting.

“The key thing is the weather,” Petersohn said. “I don’t anticipate having continuous construction conditions like we currently have, but I see substantial completion in 2008 with possible carryover into 2009.”

Councilman Ronny Russell said some of the Spring Avenue funds were redirected to finish the Danville Road widening project, which also added to the delay.

Russell said the council would likely address the construction match of $780,000 in the city’s 2008 fiscal-year budget.

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