Road improvement funds bound for Calhoun, most other Alabama counties
by Laura Johnson
Jun 01, 2012 | 4464 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As picturesque as it is spanning a shaded creek, this one-lane bridge on Ranch Road in Wellington is surfaced only in boards and is due for replacement. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
As picturesque as it is spanning a shaded creek, this one-lane bridge on Ranch Road in Wellington is surfaced only in boards and is due for replacement. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Calhoun County is receiving $651,714.20 in federal funding to replace a one-lane wooden bridge in the Wellington area.

The money is a relatively small portion of the roughly $138.5 million awarded for 105 road and bridge projects across the state. The funding was provided for the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, or ATRIP, the largest road and bridge improvement plan in the state’s history, according to a release from Gov. Robert Bentley’s office.

The Wellington bridge that will be replaced using ATRIP funds is on Ranch Road. Its aged structure has narrow beams and a low weight limit — 3 tons. That limit prohibits large trucks and school buses from driving across it, said Michael Hosch, assistant Calhoun County engineer.

The program will fund road and bridge repairs in 61 of the state’s 67 counties. Clay County will receive $507,375.14 in ATRIP funding to repave a 5.1-mile stretch of County Road 66. In Cleburne County, Bells Mill Road will be improved with roughly $120,000 in state funding. Cherokee County was awarded nearly $1.5 million to resurface a portion of County Road 19.

The release states that the program aims to enhance the quality of life and bolster economic opportunities in the state by making widespread infrastructure improvements to the roads and bridges. It is also helping county highway departments pave and repair more surfaces without dipping into their limited gasoline tax revenue funding.

“It would have received attention eventually,” said Jeremy Butler, Clay County engineer. “It pretty much puts us a year, a year and a half ahead.”

While the program is helping county engineers like Butler move ahead of schedule, it does have at least one limiting element, he said. In order to receive funds for a project, the local governments must pay for 20 percent of the project.

That means Calhoun County will pay $162,928 to replace the bridge on Ranch Road and Clay County will pay $126,843.78 to resurface a portion of County Road 66. Cleburne County will pay $30,000 to supplement ATRIP funding for improvements and Cherokee County will pay $371,681.44 for its ATRIP-funded resurfacing project.

Butler said that because of the 20 percent matching requirement, his county submitted only one project for review. Other counties submitted several projects for ATRIP funding.

The governor announced ATRIP in February, cities and counties began submitting projects and a committee formed by the Alabama Department of Transportation began reviewing them. The submissions were evaluated according to whether they could provide the match, bridge ratings, traffic counts timelines, safety and several other factors, the governor’s release states.

The Calhoun County Highway Department submitted three projects in addition to the one that has already been accepted. The county also submitted a $1.5 million resurfacing project on Choccolocco Road, a $610,000 road improvement plan on Nisbet Lake Road and a $310,000 bridge replacement project on Possum Trot Road.

Hosch said some or all of the other three projects may be selected later. The ATRIP funding allotments announced Thursday are the first of “at least” three rounds of funding for the program.

The release states two more funding allotments will be announced for road projects through the program in the fall of 2012 and in the spring of 2013. The projects announced Thursday will be supported with roughly $138.5 million in ATRIP funding.

Funding for ATRIP comes from the Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles Bond Program, known as GARVEE. Through GARVEE, Alabama can essentially access “future federal dollars” to pay for improvements before the cost of road construction and repair increases even more.

According to Calhoun County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm, the cost of paving roads with asphalt has more than doubled in the past 10 years. It now costs between $75,000 and $100,000 to pave one mile, he said.

“With interest rates on municipal bonds at historic lows, the use of GARVEE bonds makes strong financial sense as the low cost of borrowing is generally lower than the rising cost of inflation in construction projects,” the release states.

Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.
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