Published January 07, 2005 6:01AM

DOT to replace Mentone bridges

By Darrell Norman
Times Staff Writer

MENTONE - State officials assured an overflow crowd at Mentone Town Hall on Thursday that two hazardous bridges on Alabama 117 will be replaced.

Sen. Lowell Barron, Transportation Director Joe McInnes and Division Engineer Johnny Harris met with Mentone officials and residents in response to a letter-writing campaign about the bridges.

Both Barron, D-Fyffe, and McInnes said they have received numerous letters and telephone calls after recent accidents on the bridges.

One of the bridges is in the town limits, over the west fork of Little River at Skyline Camp. The other is near the Georgia line, over the middle fork of Little River at Whatley's Curve.

The two bridges were built more than 60 years ago, and the Alabama Department of Transportation has declared them functionally obsolete. They are less than 20 feet wide, with no buffer area between the traffic lanes and the guardrails.

McInnes said the bridges were never designed to carry a high volume of heavy trucks, but that many truckers use Alabama 117 as a shortcut between Interstates 75 and 59.

Both the narrow bridges are in a curve, and it is practically impossible for trucks to cross them without crossing the center line, especially when they are traveling too fast.

One of those in the audience was the father of a man seriously injured in a collision with a truck on the Skyline bridge in October.

"My son has not walked since October 28, and he has two more months before he gets to therapy," the man said as his voice cracked.

Although McInnes already had outlined the plans to replace the bridges, the man said that residents should blow up the bridge to keep large trucks from using it in the meantime.

That was not the only drastic suggestion to come from the audience. One said that trucks should be forbidden to travel through Mentone. Another said police officers should be paid a bounty for giving tickets to speeding truckers.

The replacement bridges will be 40 feet wide, with two 12-foot lanes and buffers between traffic and the guardrails. The cost for the two bridges
is estimated at $2 million.

To make the bridges as safe as possible until they can be replaced, Harris said DOT crews are improving warning signs and installing caution lights along with speed limit signs on the approaches.

The new bridge at Whatley's Curve will cross the river upstream from the current bridge. The route for the Skyline bridge has not been determined, Harris said.

The contract for replacement of the Whatley's bridge is to be awarded in November, with construction beginning soon after Jan. 1, 2006.

The Skyline contract was to have been awarded in late 2006, but McInnes said it would be moved up and awarded no later than one year from now.

"That is a major concession, and we are happy to do it," he said.

McInnes said Gov. Bob Riley had set three priorities for state transportation projects: that they first address safety, that they address real need instead of want, and that, when possible, they promote industrial development.

"There is a demonstrated need here, and it is definitely a matter of safety," McInnes said.

Both McInnes and Harris said that while DOT can work toward making the bridges safer, the problem of speeding trucks falls to local law enforcement and the Department of Public Safety.

McInnes said Alabama has only about 330 troopers to enforce traffic laws, while Mississippi has 660 and Georgia more than 900.
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