Residents: Bridge needs to remain open

Published 1:36 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Despite pleas to the Covington County Commission Tuesday morning to keep Pigeon Creek Bridge on Lloyd Mill Road open, the bridge was barricaded and closed at noon.

Residents of the north end of the pleaded with county commissioners to keep Pigeon Creek Bridge open Tuesday morning. The comments were made during a public comment portion of the regular meeting.

There were 40 people in attendance at the meeting, which generally only draws county personnel and reporters, and 13 of those asked the county to keep the bridge open.

“We are well aware of the structural problems,” Michael Bush said. “What we need today is a promise that you will find an alternate route before closing down the bridge.”

Bush said that he has been crossing the bridge since 1965.

“We have done everything possible, we have all tried our best to maintain traffic,” Bush said. “We have kept our side of the bargain. If you won’t build a bridge, then find us a way.”

Bush said that he is reminded of a natural disaster that came in 2001 that claimed the life of his mother and niece.

“There was a tornado that came in March 12, 2001,” Bush said. “There were two deaths, one being my mom and one being my niece. The other man in the house was saved because the ambulance was able to go across that bridge.”

Cecil Lloyd, who also spoke at a public hearing on the issue in 2013, said he believes that Pigeon Creek Bridge should be replaced before any other bridges because it has been waiting the longest.

“The Star-News wrote that there were 159 bridges in the county that need replacing,” Lloyd said. “We’re not asking the commission to replace 159 bridges. We’re asking as we have since 1977, to repair one. I think our bridge deserves to be repaired first because we have been waiting the longest.”

Assistant county engineer Ron Weidler said last week that the county has 159 bridges that are beyond their estimated service lives. He estimated the county could replace 12 other bridges for the estimated $2.3 to $3 million it would cost to replace the 88-year-old Pigeon Creek Bridge.

Lloyd argued that there have been several other projects that have gone ahead of repairing Pigeon Creek Bridge that could have been left out.

“There have been bridges built since then that could have been left off,” Lloyd said. “Roads have been paved that could have been left out. Ball fields and boat ramps have been built when they could have waited for a more appropriate time, but it was for where they were and who they served.”

Lloyd said that he if he were sitting where the commissioners were sitting, he could find enough cuts to come up with the money and that he knows the real reason as to why the commission wants to close the bridge.

“The legislature has got to pass the statewide gas tax or they have to authorize a local option,” Lloyd said. “With the bridge off the table, that is going to make these potbelly projects for some of these politicians easier to fund if they don’t have to worry about this bridge.”

Lloyd said he believed that if this bridge were closed, it would increase the crime rate in the area.

“This bridge is a current popular gathering place for fishers, kayakers and campers,” Lloyd said. “However, there is also evidence of a little meth operation going on. If this section of road is cut off all the way to Brooks, you can bet that the criminal element will take over. The fishermen, kayakers and campers will not go back down there and it will be only criminals over there. It will become a danger to the people that live in the immediate area.”

After quoting several articles from The Star-News, Donna Hendrix asked why the county did not fund Pigeon Creek Bridge repairs.

“If the county was the best financial shape it has been in 25 years, how come we did not get any funding for Pigeon Creek Bridge,” Hendrix said. “Somewhere, something is not making sense and we all know Braswell Road was paved. I would like to know how much it would cost to pave that road, because it was told to us that it would take $2.5 million to build a bridge, and in my opinion a bridge is more important than a paved road, which our previous county commission now lives on. So if I get elected to the county commission can I pave my road?”

Hendrix was referring to former County Commissioner Harold Elmore, who lives on Braswell Road.

Kylan Lewis said that the Pigeon Creek Bridge issue has been kicked from previous commissions and keeps on being kicked down the road.

“Promises have been made and money had been approved, but the can has simply been kicked down the road for someone else to deal with,” Lewis said. “You as the commission have to want to find a solution. You have to be bold enough in your thinking to find it.”

Commissioner Tony Holmes said that he was scared to even cross the bridge.

“I have not been across that bridge in at least 20 years, and to be honest with you I was afraid to cross that bridge last Sunday,” Holmes said. “I’m ready to resolve this issue though, I feel certain we have found the solution so we do not kick the can further down the road for a future commissions. We can solve this problem and so we should.”

Commissioner Joe Barton said he believes an alternate route could be built in 180 days once funding is secured.

As of noon, Tuesday, the county engineer closed Pigeon Creek Bridge. Alabama Department of Transportation guidelines authorize bridge inspectors certified under the National Bridge Inspections Standards to close a bridge that the inspector believes poses a danger to the public.

Commission Chairman Greg White issued a press release later in the day stating the commission will work hard to find funding for an alternative route or replacing the bridge.

“Meetings are scheduled next week with the Alabama Department of Transportation, and conversations have already started with our legislative delegation to seek funding support for this project,” White said. “I am very hopeful that they will help us with funding.”