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Debating area bypass
DOT invites public to comment

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com 340-2441

Jean Elliott fears the prolonged discussion of the Decatur-Hartselle bypass has led her neighbors to indifference.

"They've been talking about building this road for 25 years," Hartselle resident Elliott said. "A lot of people just didn't think it would get done, and now the Transportation Department is on the verge of building it."

At two recent meetings, the Alabama Department of Transportation invited the public to view and discuss the proposed routes for the bypass.

DOT hosted the public meetings to raise awareness and further educate the public about the project. A wall-sized map detailing the bypass' path greeted attending citizens. The map showcased a 17.5-mile road that would connect Alabama 67 to U.S. 72, and along the way intersect neighborhoods and farmland in Morgan and Lawrence Counties.

Citizens who attended the meetings are taking advantage of the 10-day comment period and voicing their opinions.

"I've received many comments about the project. Some have been for it while others have been against it," said DOT District 1 Engineer Johnny Harris.

Officially, the period to comment ends Thursday but Harris said he will continue accepting public remarks. The district office will forward the comments to DOT's design bureau, which is responsible for selecting the route.

Harris urges citizens to express their opinions because the design team will take into account public opinion when deciding on a final route.

Along with public opinion, the design team will weigh the environmental and historical impact on the area, such as the location of wetlands, cemeteries, neighborhoods and wildlife.

"To my knowledge, no new issues have surfaced from the meetings," Harris said. "Some people commented about underground caves, but the bureau already took the caves into account."

From the environmental study, the DOT recommended two potential routes that appeared on the map at the public meetings. Starting from Alabama 67, the routes travel identical paths but diverge at Sivley Road in Hartselle, where they parallel Vaughn Bridge Road north and south.

Both routes would affect existing neighborhoods. The route preferred by the DOT runs north of Vaughn Bridge Road and intersects Norris Mill Road, Blowing Springs Road and McCleskey Private Drive.

About a mile south of the preferred route is an alternate route, which crosses the streets from Forest Chapel Road to Danny Wallace Road. This route intersects Elliott's neighborhood, a developing area consisting of residences built 40 years ago and homes under construction.

Whichever route DOT selects, pavement and asphalt will replace existing homes and result in the relocation of residents.

Elliott intends on quickly educating her community about the proximity of the project by handing out fliers and holding discussions with her neighbors.

"It's amazing that the state has the ability to take 20 to 25 years to develop a plan," Elliott said, "but gives the citizens only 10 days to comment. It seems a little bit unbalanced."

Along with commenting to DOT, affected residents are expressing their concerns to Hartselle Mayor Dwight Tankersley.

"I have heard concerns about the need for the road and concerns about the road going through private property," Tankersley said. "I understand the residents' concerns about the imposing nature of the highway."

North Alabama leaders, including Tankersley, support construction of the bypass, believing the road offers industrial growth opportunities and relief for other heavily used arteries, specifically Beltline Road.

"The bypass is an important corridor to the future expansion of the communities in this area," Tankersley said.

For now, residents along the proposed route can only wait until DOT's design bureau finalizes the environment study and decides the bypass' location.

Citizens wanting to make comments concerning the Decatur-Hartselle bypass can write to Johnny Harris at P.O. Box 550, Guntersville, AL 35976 or e-mail bellt@dot.state.al.us.

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