Eastern Bypass Blog
The most recent comments submitted to the last ALDOT public forum on the Tuscaloosa Eastern Bypass Project.
Dec. 17- Tuscaloosa News editorial
April 16- FOHC letter to ALDOT
Nov. 28- Rep. John Merrill's letter
May 10- "Hurricane Creek will be destroyed", Anna Keene
The Black Warrior River Watershed Management Plan, a formidable creation of the Alabama Clean Water Partnership and ADEM, offers an inspiring example of what can be accomplished by communities dedicated to longterm, sustainable use of water resources. In fact, as document, it teaches you more about our river than anything else I've come across. Here are a few excerpts with data and information relevant to the Hurricane Creek Watershed:
You can access this article online at the Tuscaloosa News page. Here it is in its entirety:
Changes in bypass route requested
By Dana Beyerle
Montgomery Bureau Chief
Published: Sunday, December 17, 2006 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 16, 2006 at 11:00 p.m.
MONTGOMERY | Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby have asked Gov. Bob Riley’s office to consider moving the proposed route of a Tuscaloosa bypass to accommodate an upscale development.
The state Department of Transportation is amenable to moving the proposed route of the so-called Eastern Bypass to accommodate the development called Townes of North River just northeast of the Tuscaloosa city limits.
But the willingness to consider a new route has an environmental group seeking the same consideration from the DOT over the bypass’s route south of the Black Warrior River in order to prevent physical and aesthetic damage to the “M" Bend of Hurricane Creek, a popular canoeing and recreation area.
“If they move any of it, they have to move all of it," said John Wathen of Friends of Hurricane Creek.
Maddox in June told the DOT that Tuscaloosa’s growth potential is to the north and northeast of Rice Mine Road, north of the Black Warrior River.
Because of that, he said, a substantial development that is important to Tuscaloosa may necessitate changing the route of the road, which might not be built for 20 years or more.
“We asked for the state to look at the long-term picture of where we’re trying to grow residentially and commercially," Maddox said in a recent interview.
Townes of North River is a 500-unit development on a 162-acre tract just east of the eastern boundary of Munny Sokol Park and a half-mile north of the intersection of Rice Mine Road and New Watermelon Road.
But Townes of North River is in the path of the proposed $227 million bypass that eventually will connect Interstate 20/59 to U.S. 82.
The development by Chris Dobbs and Chris Hayslip was planned after the DOT drew a preliminary route for the bypass.
Last year DOT Division engineer Dee Rowe said it was unlikely the route would be changed to accommodate the development and that Hayslip was aware of the route.
“We do not have any reason to think that moving the bypass is a possibility," she said in 2005. “He is taking his chances that the location of the bypass will be moved."
Dobbs said he’s proud of the project, which is underway with its $250,000 to $750,000 homes, and believes it will be good for Tuscaloosa.
His attorney, Bryan Winter, said the city and the DOT worked together to solve the road issue by suggesting bypass alternatives.
“I guess the answer is we’ve got a situation where we’ve got the road 20 years down the road and there’s an opportunity to build beautiful homes in Tuscaloosa," Winter said. “It’s a public policy decision."
He said the development went through the city’s permitting process and the city and DOT were aware of the project. “The state never said to us they’d like to buy the property," he said.
Winter said a western jog to the bypass apparently was agreed on by the city and the DOT.
“The city knows about it, the state knows about it and the state and the city are working together to resolve an issue," he said. “I don’t know why they’d want to put a road through a subdivision."
DOT officials told the city last week in a letter that it received conflicting signals on how to proceed with a new look at the bypass and Maddox responded.
Construction of the bypass south of the Black Warrior River is to be completed well before the northern section. “And we also felt necessary to give our view that the city of Tuscaloosa’s portion (of the bypass) from the Paul Bryant bridge back to the interstate is critical," Maddox said.
Commercial and residential growth is important to the city and should be accommodated with a route change because the northern leg’s development is far in the future, unlike the southern leg, the mayor said.
He said the city wants to annex the development.
Anna Keene, coordinator for the federally funded AmeriCorps VISTA Watershed, said Friday that money appears to be more important than preserving semi-wild urban areas like Hurricane Creek, which will be skirted by the southern leg of the bypass.
“What definitely bothers me is they would stick up for development rather than natural areas," Keene said. “Maybe we need to get with city officials and talk about it."
She said she believes preserving natural areas has an economic benefit, too. “People are catching on, maybe the government is slow," she said.
In 2001, Friends of Hurricane Creek asked the DOT to move the proposed route away from the “M" bend of Hurricane Creek, “one of the creek’s most pristine areas."
Wathen, river keeper for Friends of Hurricane Creek, said developers apparently “have a lot more say than the common citizen."
“If there’s any movement in this bypass (route) then an environmental statement has to be done," Wathen said. “They cannot start rerouting it because of fat cats and their money and leave us out of it again because there will be possible repercussions and possible litigation."
Riley’s legal adviser, Ken Wallis, who was contacted by Maddox and Shelby, turned the issue over to the Department of Transportation. Riley’s office had no immediate comment.
Shelby’s office said his involvement is due to his interest in a bypass that will ease traffic.
Shelby spokeswoman Katie Boyd said the final route will be determined by the DOT but the state should be good stewards of taxpayers’ money.
“To that end, in a recent conversation with (Wallis), the senator followed-up on concerns expressed by the city of Tuscaloosa regarding ALDOT’s pursuit of more expensive bypass routes rather than considering less costly alternatives available," Boyd said.
DOT Chief Engineer Don Vaughn said rerouting will cost millions of dollars in state and federal taxpayers’ money mainly because delays result in higher acquisition and construction costs.
The bypass was slated to cross Hurricane Creek near a waterfall, skirt the creek and then cross it again below Stone Creek.
William Adams, design engineer for the DOT, said local concerns were addressed and “we’ve essentially already shifted because of Hurricane Creek to the extent that we already can."
Adams said the route was moved slightly away from Hurricane Creek but not by one-quarter mile so the road couldn’t be seen as requested by Friends of Hurricane Creek.
“We would have had more residential disruption," he said. “We’re trying to accommodate the areas of concern and still maintain the approved route."
Adams said the DOT is ready to start buying right-of-way for the bypass south of the Black Warrior River and any change might require a new Environmental Impact Statement.
“It’s possible it could be redone," he said. “It’s not desirable."
He said any major route change would reopen the EIS process, “which will get everyone involved to be heard."
Vaughn said the DOT only wants clear direction from the city on “which way we’re headed."
“We had an approved route for several years ... and the mayor came over and said that subdivision was important to Tuscaloosa," Vaughn said. “We agreed to look at the line or shift it and how that impacted the subdivision."
A DOT map shows an eastern jog around the proposed development but that wasn’t initially acceptable to developers, Maddox said, so Tuscaloosa transportation director Joe Robinson told the DOT to proceed with original plans. “Joe was right at the time," Maddox said.
Maddox said developers had second thoughts and now propose realignment “along the western boundary of Townes of North River." Maddox said while the decision is up to the DOT, he believes a western realignment is preferable.
DOT spokesman Tony Harris said the DOT was unaware of a proposal for a western jog around the development and produced a map only with a potential eastern realignment.
Adams said the western jog could be a problem because the road must completely miss Munny Sokol Park, which is state property.
“We can’t go across the mental health property," Adams said. “We could make a major shift but the western part you’re talking about is his property and the park’s and they almost join at Watermelon Road and we have an interchange at Watermelon Road ... there might not be room."
Wathen is unmoved by explanations. “No one offered to help us," he said.
Added Vaughn, “We can’t start, stop and change directions."
(Dana Beyerle is Montgomery Bureau chief for the New York Times Regional Newspapers.)
Since we've received a number of requests for contact information for public officials and legislators, we figured we would go ahead and make it available to everyone online for future and present use.
Local officials involved in the Eastern Bypass Project
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a way to contact the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee by email. This is the group chosen by the West Alabama Regional Commission to represent your interests and needs. You can express your concerns about this matter to David Norris at email@example.com.
State officials involved in the Eastern Bypass Project
National officials involved in the Eastern Bypass Project
IT IS A PARK.
PARA lists it as a park on its foundation and donation webpage.
As of March 18, 2012, Hurricane Creek Park is listed as a "park owned by PARA" on the PARA website.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper describes the sale of this land to PARA for the creation of a 250-acre nature reserve and park in 2008 newsletter.
PARA considers it a park and recreation facility in 2009 Annual Report.
“These properties include walking trails, a multipurpose arena, boat landings, ball fields, garden plots,playgrounds, indoor and outdoor swimming facilities, picnic shelters and pavilions, the Veterans Memorial Park, the M-Bend Area of Hurricane Creek, the best municipal golf course in the state and Tuscaloosa’s only First Tee chapter.”
The Trust for Public Land made its purchase and deed with the understanding that the M-Bend would be a public park.
The sign which reads "Hurricane Creek Park" right off Hwy 216 names the area as Hurricane Creek Park.
When you call the PARA Park Ranger, he includes Hurricane Creek Park as among his parks and work sites.
The PARA 2011 Summer Guide says the following:
"The “M Bend” at Hurricane Creek offers a natural swimming hole just downstream from the bridge on Highway 216. Even on hot summer days, the water in this Appalachian Mountain Chain stream stays cool and refreshing. Surrounded by trails and ideal for canoeing, anyone can enjoy its beautiful scenery and cool water. The “M Bend” is located at the Alabama Hwy 216 Bridge, which crosses Hurricane Creek in the Peterson community.”
IT IS NOT A PARK.
ALDOT refuses to grant a permit to PARA or FOHC for the creation of a parking lot for the M-Bend Park. It can't be a park without a parking lot.
PARA does not list M-Bend under parks in its 2010 Annual Report.
The current route for the Eastern Bypass bisects the creek at several locations. This route would not be likely to receive funding under the FHWA's 4(f) rules for parks, so it must not be a park.
The M-Bend Area is a nature preserve, not a park. It was purchased by the Freshwater Land Trust as a nature preserve, and PARA intends to keep it as a nature preserve as well.
It is not yet officially a park. Instead, it is in the process of becoming a park. According to Experience Tuscaloosa, the website of the Chamber of Commerce:
“Hurricane Creek is noted as the place in the eastern United States where the Appalachian Mountains meet the gulf coastal plain. It is unique in that geography representing each ecosystem occupies the same niche. Indigenous plants include three different species of native azalea, rare plants such as the silky camellia tree, along with ferns and wildflowers. PARA recently acquired 249 acres in this environmentally sensitive area known as the "M Bend" with plans to protect the area by establishing it as a park.”
The fact that PARA documents refer to Hurricane Creek Park as "the M-Bend area" rather than Hurricane Creek Park means that it is not a park. Instead, the M-Bend area is something that looks like a park, has rangers like a park, has a park sign, has park rules, has public visitors, has trash receptacles. We are hoping that the confusion is a sign that Hurricane Creek Park is a park in the process of becoming a better park.
Here is a list from the Final Draft of the EIS providing information about the "dominant vegetation" to be impacted.
This excerpt offers a list of those scientists, engineers, and companies involved in the preparation of the current Eastern bypass plan.
This excerpt includes pps. 127-130 from the Final Draft of the Environmental Impact Study for the proposed Eastern Bypass. It is the only reference to public comments in this extensive document.