SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT)– ‘Save our bridge.’ That was the message more than 100 people had for state lawmakers and Alabama Department of Transportation Officials Thursday evening during a public hearing to discuss the future of the historic B.B. Comer bridge, slated for demolition next year.
Sen. Shadrick McGill, Rep. John Robinson, ALDOT Director John Cooper and district engineer Johnny Harris held the hearing to get feedback from a growing number of community members who have expressed interest in saving the bridge. Unfortunately, their protest over the demolition may be a day late and a dollar short, literally.
ALDOT officials say it will cost millions to maintain the bridge, which includes insuring, painting, inspecting and construction costs; money they do not have funds allocated for.
“We cannot afford nor do we have the right under the law to continue paying for a bridge that is not deemed suitable for vehicle transportation,” says ALDOT Director John Cooper.
The Facebook group, “Friends of B.B. Comer Bridge”, has over 3100 members and played a major role in getting state leaders to schedule the meeting.
Members say they would like to create a walking and bike path area for the community. They think the state could turn over the money it will cost to demolish the old bridge to a soon to be created non-profit to pay for maintenance costs for the bridge in the future.
Cooper says there are other major, “hills” the group must overcome before that could even be a partial reality.
“This decision to destroy the bridge was made back in 2002. At that time we held a public hearing and had not one person express interest in saving the structure,” Cooper told the standing room only crowd of protesters Thursday.
“We have entered some very serious contracts in this process with contractors, and the U.S. Coast Guard and we need to follow through with the plan to demo the bridge as per those contracts,” Cooper added.
The “Save the B.B. Comer Bridge group” has reached out to several national historic preservation organizations, but so far no guarantees for funding have been made and the group has not formally received a not for profit status so they can collect donations.
If the group can not come to an agreement with ALDOT by late next year or early 2015, the bridge will be dismantled.