SR-117 Issues

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Received:  Tuesday, January 6, 2009, 2:15 PM

On January 6, 2009, Jared Felkins of the Fort Payne Times Journal asked me what issues I had with ALDOT building a new bridge in Mentone?  My written response to Mr. Felkins was as follows:

We don’t have any issues with ALDOT building a new bridge if this is the only solution.

First, I would like to state that my family and I are for the safety of Mentone above and beyond anything else. My first call as a member of Desoto Rescue Squad was a bridge accident, and I have been the first one providing medical attention for 3 of the past 4 accidents. My grandfather first spoke with the then Alabama Highway Department about the dangers of the bridge in the 70’s. At that point, he was told traffic would one day be rerouted around Mentone on an Atlanta-to-Memphis highway. Unfortunately, that bypass is still slated for some 20 years in the future. Given my family’s history of living near the bridge, we are acutely aware of the dangers involved and the urgent need for action. Our idea of the ideal solution is one that can both preserve the area while creating a safer bridge and safer town.

According to the national bridge inventory database the Mentone Bridge rates as a possible candidate for an Historic Bridge Rehabilitation. We have spoken with a bridge engineering firm in Atlanta who specializes in widening bridges. They have examined the bridge and estimate it can be widened in less than 3 months to meet current guidelines for less money with little eminent domain. A wider bridge that can be completed in three months is an immediate safety improvement over what we have now. However, ICT cannot put together a formal plan until they have certain technical information from ALDOT concerning the geometrics the wider bridge would need to meet. We requested this information from ALDOT in December of 2007 and are still awaiting these numbers so a final plan can be submitted for their review.

From our understanding, the primary cause of the delay for this project involves a correction to the Archeology study for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS )for this project. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the preliminary study needed for State agencies to move forward. The EIS requires an impact evaluation on all structures over 50 years old which will be impacted by Federal dollars.

In ALDOT’s original Environmental study created in 2005, our families home was listed as being constructed in 1970. However, our home was constructed by my great grandfather in 1918. We learned of this mistaken date in May of 2005 and brought it to the immediate attention of ALDOT and the State Historical Commission. We were told this correction required a reevaluation of the EIS but were not told how long this would reevaluation would take. We were told they had to have all their facts correct before they could move forward.

Last night during Senator Barron’s town hall chat we were informed for the first time that the Historical review would delay this project 18-24 months. We never requested such a delay; we only asked that the record be corrected concerning date of construction for our family home. Second, we notified ALDOT and the AHC of this in May of 2005. Therefore, the 18-24 month delay Senator Barron spoke of has already passed. We are unsure why this project is still taking so long but greatly appreciate Senator Barron’s offer to help resolve these problems and move this project forward. Whether it is a widening of the existing bridge or a new bridge, we want to see this project underway as soon as possible. Therefore, as to your question, we have no issues except to see Mentone safer.

Slate McDorman
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Sunday, November 25, 2007, 8:12 PM

Dear Ms. Cash,

I just read your letter on and felt compelled to express my feelings on the important issues you raised.  My name is Slate McDorman and my family has owned the home directly adjacent and downstream of the Mentone Bridge for the past 90 years.  Due to the effect ALDOT’s proposed replacement project will have on our home, its outcome is of the greatest concern to me and my family.

First, I would like to state that we are for the safety of Mentone above and beyond anything else.  There have been 18 recorded accidents at this location since 1954 and my family has witnessed the aftermath of most.  My first call as a member of Desoto Rescue was a bridge accident, and I have been the first one providing medical attention for 3 of the past 4 accidents.  My grandfather first spoke with the then Alabama Highway Department about the dangers of the bridge in the 70’s.  At that point, he was told traffic would one day be rerouted around Mentone on an Atlanta-to-Memphis highway.  Unfortunately, that bypass is still slated for some 20 years in the future.  Given my family’s history of living near the bridge, we are acutely aware of the dangers involved and the urgent need for action.  Our idea of the ideal solution is one that can both preserve the area while creating a safer bridge.

You commented on the focus of this project being one of beauty/history versus safety.  Where a replacement option is the safe solution and a widening will preserve beauty/history at the expense of safety.  What I have not seen is any information that shows a widening of the existing bridge to meet current guidelines is any less safe than a replacement.  Given that the proposed replacement involves inserting a 55mph, 45-foot-wide bridge into the middle of Mentone, the side effects of a replacement might actually be more dangerous than a widening.  Traffic traveling through Mentone at 55mph can create additional hazards throughout the town.

Also, a new bridge alone is not necessarily a magic bullet for a safer road.  The new bridge at Whatley’s had its first accident less than two weeks after being opened this year.  Two tractor trailers sideswiped one another while crossing over the new bridge.  To help minimize such accidents, we believe Mentone would be safer as a whole with a slower speed limit.  It is even possible to lower the speed limit just for the transfer trucks, such as on Highway 35 at the crest of Lookout Mountain.  A lower speed limit would decrease both the chance and severity of all accidents involving large trucks everywhere in town.  Many small Alabama towns have such low speed limits on their sections of State highway.

Another important factor when considering a replacement is that it will take considerably longer than a widening.  From what has been explained to us, the probate court process for eminent domain on an average project takes one to two years.  For better or worse, the government taking private property is a slow process.  The construction of the replacement, which will be on a scale approximately three times larger than the new Whatley Bridge, will likely take at least an additional year.  If my dates are correct, the new Whatley Bridge was constructed in just over 10 months.  Taken together, if the State decided to begin with construction of the replacement tomorrow, the near side of three years is a conservative estimate before the bridge is traversable.  The final result being a 55mph bridge, raised 5 feet above the existing bridge with over 3/4th’s of a mile of highway through Mentone reshaped to accommodate.

To try and find the fastest, safest solution, we have spoken with a bridge engineering firm from Atlanta who specializes in widening bridges.  They have examined the bridge and estimate it can be widened in less than 3 months to meet current guidelines for less money with little eminent domain.  A wider bridge that can be completed in three months is an immediate safety improvement over what we have now.  The new bridge at Whatley’s is an example that every bridge has a certain degree of risk no matter its size.  But if a widening of the Mentone Bridge can be made just as safe as a replacement, the benefits to preserving the town’s history and environment are a bonus.  On the other hand, if a widening is indeed more dangerous than a replacement, there is no further need to investigate this option.  I am very interested in your thoughts on this matter.

Slate McDorman

Received:  Sunday, August 26, 2007, 8:38 PM

I would like to express my thought on widening the bridge in Mentone. My father, Billy Cash was the bus driver for Valley Head and Moon Lake School for twenty-five years. For twenty-five years he passed vehicles, semi-trucks, and other school buses daily on this bridge, during the school season. He is the main reason this issue was brought up to the city. I am sure everyone of you concerned with this situation has seen the picture of the close encounter.

It makes my heart heart for the loved ones that were hurt or even killed around or on this bridge. My father to was very concerned with everyone who traveled this bridge. He on many occasions, as for myself, have thought we were going to see our Heavenly Father passing an oncoming vehicle on this bridge. Anyone who has children in the city of Mentone should be very concerned with this situation. Have you ever stopped to think maybe one day you send your child to school and upon waiting for their return from the school bus, you get a phone call and you suddenly realize you will never see that child again because of piece of historic property (a bridge)? That is how I felt everyday my father drove not only your children on this school bus, but my two children as well. I thank God that I had a father and my children had a grandfather and a bus driver that was very concerned with their safety.

Everyone who thinks Mentone's beauty is a piece of art, should stop and think about not only you and your family's lives, but the lives of everyone that lives in Mentone. Come on people, are you ready for you or someone you know to DIE????? If only I could show you the hurt that you would feel when you lose a loved one, maybe then you would realize a bridge is not a piece of art. I lost my father Billy Cash on October 31, 2006, not from a vehicle accident, but a heart attack. It isn't the way they leave us, it is the fact that they are no longer with us. I hope one day you people that want to keep Mentone a PIECE OF ART and do not care about the safety of everyone who lives here, will soon come to realize SAFETY is more important than BEAUTY!!!!!!!! What would you give for LIFE?

Anyone who has a statement for me I would love to hear them

Nichole Cash
Mentone, Alabama or

Received:  Tuesday, April 17, 2007, 9:39 AM

The Mentone Bridge is narrow, but not any narrower than thousands of bridges across Alabama, including the railroad viaduct at Valley Head.  All narrow bridges are dangerous when one of the vehicles passing on the bridge is wide like a bus or a truck.  When both vehicles are wide, like a bus and a truck, one can only pray for survival.  Widening or replacing the bridge would definitely lessen the dangers associated with its width. 

The Mentone Bridge is somewhat unique, however, because it also has a dangerous curve on its approach from the southeast.  This is described in the “Simple and Immediate Solutions” section of “Addressing the Immediate Safety Problems” section of this website where a long history of similar accidents indicates that there would be far less danger if the problems with the curve were fixed.  Those concerned about the safety issues should carefully consider the information presented there.

The recently installed lower speed limit signs and caution lights have helped.  Simply fixing the problems with the curve will help much more.  There is no controversy about fixing the curve.  A curve-fix project is relatively inexpensive, compared to a bridge project.  Fixing the curve can be done quickly and with little disruption to traffic. 

Perhaps the simplest and most cost-effective thing that can be done to lessen the existing dangers is to simply remove the vegetation southeast of the bridge.  This vegetation hides the bridge from traffic heading toward Mentone and blocks views of oncoming traffic from drivers crossing the bridge from Mentone.  Why this vegetation hasn’t long since been removed is an interesting question.  Whatever the case, the bushes (and some or all of the trees, if necessary) can be removed in a few hours at essentially no cost. 

It’s fine to moan about the inaction of ALDOT and the Mentone Town Council regarding big projects like fixing the bridge.  In the meantime, a Town agent with pruning shears and/or a chainsaw can do something immediately (today) which might save someone’s life by dealing with the hazardous (and possibly illegal) vegetation in the highway right-of-way southeast of the bridge. 

Tom Donald
Birmingham, Alabama

Received:  Monday, April 16, 2007, 9:57 PM

Mentone does not need a bridge to make it beautiful, it has many other attractions. The most beautiful things I can think of in Mentone are it's people. All the families that I have grown up knowing, the people that I have come to depend on as some depend on me. I don't want to go to that beautiful arch bridge to work another accident involving my friends and possibly my families. My own wife and children cross this bridge at least 2 times and as many as 20 times a day. I feel that the most objection to the new bridge comes from those who do not have strong community ties. I can't see where anyone would love a piece of art more so than a family member.

That said, if you don't love me and you don't love those around you, and you feel as though you can live without them, do all that you can to postpone the building of a new bridge. Draw it out for another 20 years just make it pretty. And when the last of the mud dries on the restorations of the existing bridge or on the new arches that are constructed, please take the time to scribe all the names of those injured and killed over the years, and for those that occur during the wait make them especially large. I only hope that I am here to read the names, and hope that I don't know them. Odds are however....

Toby Manifold
Mentone, AL

Received:  Sunday, April 15, 2007, 9:29 PM

I am a native of Mentone, Alabama. I have lived here all my life, except for 3 years when I moved to Rainsville as a newly wed. Thank God I am home for good. However, it is just this ridiculous controversey concerning the "historic beauty" that I did not miss about my home town. Don't misunderstand, I LOVE the natural beauty and secerenity of our town, but the issue at hand is safety. As a mother of two young children, I am appalled that someone would actually rather have a few plants and an old, unsafe bridge in bad need of repair, than the safety of our families. I am all for preserving nature, but the new bridge is an asset to our community. All of us cross the Highway 117 on an almost daily basis, but as someone who lives outside the city limits, I have to cross this bridge to go to the post office, the stores and to visit my family. Even taking only one of these trips, I am forced to cross the bridge twice. That bridge is barely safe for two cars to cross. How many times have you met someone comming at you head on, riding the middle line in fear of hitting the guard rail? Let alone put our precious babies on a school bus to cross it. Lest we forget the incident a few years ago when two of our school busses lost mirrors after a "close call" on that very bridge? And, for all of you who want to make this the 18-wheelers fault, you need to sit back and watch how some of the "every day" vehicles cross that bridge and speed through our school zone. My step-father is a truck driver who is a responsible and a good person. The harassment that he receives because of his profession is sad. We all could sweep around our own front doors before we criticize others. If you want a local cause to fight for I can name several: stop the drug abuse (meth) and fight for better roads and extended jurisdiction for police protection in our community.

Kim Johnson
Mentone, Alabama

(Submitted by Gail Chambers, email

Received:  Monday, July 3, 2006,  1:05 PM

In researching product alternatives for a conventional concrete span bridge I came across two alternative products offered by Contech Construction Products Inc.  The first is manufactured by a steel bridge company,  Steadfast Bridges.  I looked their company up on-line and was surprised to see that they were headquartered in Fort Payne, Alabama, just down the road from Mentone.  I have the Contech brochure that shows some really attractive arch designs made by Steadfast.  The bridges are made of steel and can clear-span up to 150 feet (no pilings in the river!)  The steel bridge could provide a second span, leaving the existing bridge in place.  This would separate traffic on the bridge which would prevent head-on collisions on the bridge.  There would be enough room for a pedestrian walkway, shoulder and one travel lane on both bridges.  If the existing bridge must be replaced, then two spans of the steel bridge could be used.  Below is a link to their website, which does not have as many pictures as the brochure.  If this interests the preservation committee, I am sure Steadfast would provide more pictures.  I understand they can customize the spans.  Perhaps they could do a span that mirrors the existing bridge?  Imagine arches rising above the steel bridge that mirrors the shape and size of the arches below on the existing bridge.  That could become incorporated into a pretty cool theme of past and future.

The second alternative is less desirable from the standpoint that it would mean the removal of the existing bridge.  It probably has a longer design life than the steel bridge however and would require very little maintenance.  The alternative is a concrete arch bridge made by BEBOTech.  Pre-cast concrete arches would span the river, and pre-cast spandrel walls would then be placed and then filled with soil.  The roadway would then be constructed across the span.  The end result is a very attractive arch bridge.  Below is a link.

I am not affiliated with Contech in any way.  Research into these products with respect to suitability and cost is warranted before pursuing them as viable options.  I was cleaning my office today on this very quiet eve of Independence Day, and came across their brochures.  I am including a link to the Bridge Solutions page from their website for reference.

Here is a quick concept sketch of a steel bridge that “mirrors” the existing bridge.  I am not a structural engineer, so this concept would need to be adapted into a constructible design.

Here are examples of Steadfast Bridge’s “Archway” bridge.  This design would also compliment the existing bridge.


Deborah L. Knighton, P.E.
Senior Drainage Engineer
Faller, Davis & Associates, Inc.
5525 W. Cypress Street, Suite 300
Tampa, Fl. 33607
Phone: (813) 261-5136
Fax: (813) 261-5142

Received:  Sunday, May 28, 2006,  9:18 AM

Johnny L. Harris, Div. Engineer
Alabama Dept. of Transportation
23445 Highway 431 North
Post Office Box 550
Guntersville, AL  35976
Phone:  256-582-2254
Fax:  256-582-8922

Mr. Harris:

My family has a home near the bridge on SR-117 in Mentone.  Our home is not directly threatened by your proposed new bridge construction project, but as nearby property owners and members for more than sixty years of the Mentone community we are very concerned about what you are doing.

Two years ago you received an urgent plea from our Mayor and Town Council to do something about the dangerous curve on the southeast end of the old bridge that has caused an average of one serious accident per year for at least the last seventeen years and innumerable minor accidents and near disasters and permanent disabilities and at least one death.  You responded by ignoring Mayor Brown’s request to fix the dangerous curve and, instead, focused on replacing the bridge.  (ALDOT builds bridges.)  When you were advised by your staff that the condition of the bridge did not merit replacement, an irregular inspection of the bridge was immediately conducted from which it was concluded, without reasonable explanation, that the bridge merited replacement after all.  Since then you have expended large sums of money on the design and redesign of your bridge replacement project.  You now say that you are ready to actually start doing something tangible, but instead, because of your insensitivity to local interests, you are facing lawsuits which might well delay progress for many years.

You could have long since fixed the dangerous curve as our Mayor and Town Council originally requested.  The costs would have been negligible, there would have been no dissension and it could have been done in a few weeks.  If you had acted when action was requested two years ago, at least two serious accidents and related injuries could have been avoided.  If you would fix the curve now, future mayhem can be avoided.

Instead of building your new bridge, you could put a wider deck on the existing bridge.  It would be less expensive than a new bridge and, with adequate planning and prefabrication of the components, it could be accomplished in only a few days with no disruption of the surroundings or the existing utilities.  Instead, what you propose to do will require months of construction and utter devastation of the environment and nearby structures and a complete reconstruction of the utilities in the area during which time water, electricity, telephone and cable service might be not be available to a great part of the Mentone community.

I understand that it is your job to build bridges.  However, the bridge ordained in your plan of May 16, 2006, is the wrong bridge in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Please rethink this issue.  With a proper plan, you can easily accomplish the following:

● Avoid litigation and related delays before fixing the road problems, thereby making further accidents less likely.

● Avoid the disruption of the community associated with construction of a new bridge.

● Retain the ambiance of the existing bridge and nearby historic structures.

Tom Donald
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Friday, May 26, 2006,  3:49 PM

Johnny L. Harris, Div. Engineer
Alabama Dept. of Transportation

Dear Mr. Harris,

I have been a bystander following via the MAPA internet site the ongoing saga of the historically significant spandrel bridge in Mentone Alabama.  After reading that at the public meeting held on May 16, 2006 ALDOT had presented the option of replacing the existing bridge with a new structure downstream of the existing bridge, I felt compelled to write to you and voice my opinions in opposition to this alternative.

Alabama DOT and any other stakeholders involved ought to seriously consider the opinions and suggestions made by those who live in or travel to the community of Mentone for enjoyment.  The opinions of those who would be most affected by your decisions on a daily or ongoing basis should far outweigh the opinions of those merely traveling through the community.  I currently reside and work in Tampa Florida, but I am also an Alabama property owner of acreage located near the Georgia state line, off of SR 117.  I consider Mentone to be my community as I plan to build my home and retire there.

I am currently a Civil Engineer, professionally registered in the State of Florida, and have 14 years experience working mainly as a design consultant for FDOT projects.  My background is in both Transportation and Drainage Engineering, and I am currently the Water Resources Group Manager at Faller Davis and Associates in Tampa Florida.  In addition to drainage design for mainly roadway projects, my specialties include drainage complaint studies, assessing alternatives for pond sites (Florida permitting requirements and flooding issues require us to design a lot of ponds), and bridge hydraulic analysis for bridge replacement projects.  As I am sure you are aware, oftentimes issues with flooding and safety are the driving force behind replacing obsolete infrastructure.  However, during the design decision making process I feel a responsibility for weighing all of the options, and sometimes the alternative that provides a moderate, rather than the most, improvement is the right one when social and environmental issues are considered.

I am in the business of working with the engineers designing new roadways and bridges, and understand the importance for safety reasons of replacing deficient structures.  However, I also have a soft spot for the environment and historical structures.  I believe they are treasures to be preserved and thus the reason why I feel compelled to give my comments.

Below are my opinions:

= The bridge should be preserved as a historical landmark.  The reasons are well presented on the MAPA website.  Its historical significance, rarity, and beauty make it a treasure worth preserving!

= The highway should be classified as a scenic route.  The drive westward out of town down off the mountain into Valley Head is beautiful, and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace without a truck tailgating on your bumper.  Due to the beauty of the area and nearby natural attractions, the road is often traveled by tourists looking to take the scenic route through this area of the state.  The road is steep with many curves, and the sheer drop-offs warrant the minimization of truck traffic for safety reasons.

= Looking at pictures of the substructure of the bridge, I don’t see anything that can’t be repaired.  Spalling is easy to fix, and is important to do so in a timely manner to prevent further corrosion of the exposed steel.  Simple maintenance and repair will buy this beautiful structure time.  The idea is to help it last indefinitely.  In addition, there does not appear to be any serious issues with scour or erosion, seeing that the piers sit high up on the abutments and there is no visible evidence of scour from the photos.  I am curious if ALDOT has done a bridge hydraulics assessment of this bridge?  Putting in a new bridge without considering the dynamics of floodplain impacts, channel migration, and scour potential can be a costly mistake later.

= Every effort should be made to preserve the charm and quaintness of Mentone.  The town is a gem!  Mentone has galvanized as a community to preserve its historical buildings, and remain a one flashing light kind of town.  Because of the history and natural attractions associated with this area, this community should be considered an asset to the State of Alabama, not just another spot on the map to push trucks through.

= To address the safety issues and help preserve the charm of Mentone the “Preservation Design” should be chosen, in conjunction with realigning the curve to facilitate a visually unobstructed approach to the bridge.  With preservation and the addition of the walkway, it can become an even more significant focal point and source of pride for the community while addressing the safety concerns associated with the existing bridge.

= The addition of a single lane bridge with shoulder and refurbishing the existing bridge should be less expensive than the replacement option.  It would basically amount to half the materials cost.  Concrete and steel price increases certainly should be considered.  Has a construction cost analysis of the alternatives been done?  If so, did the analysis include the expense of right of way taking for the various alternatives?

= ALDOT should consider pursuing price reductions or donations for the land needed to realign the curve and improve visibility in exchange for providing what the community wants for their bridge and speed limit.  Has this concept been approached?

= The design consultant should be challenged to design a bridge with similar aesthetics as the existing bridge.  In addition, it would be best from a hydraulic standpoint if the piers lined up with the existing ones.  The addition of a single lane bridge on the upstream side should be as close to the existing bridge as is practical from a construction standpoint.

= There are options for traffic barrier railing that meets safety criteria yet has aesthetic appeal and would allow a better view of the river.  This should be considered.

= I can understand ALDOT’s resistance to lower the speed limit.  I am assuming it is due to how your design criteria are written as we have the same issues with lowering the speed limit here in Florida.  However, keep in mind that this highway is Main Street for this community, and the safety of the community is far more important than maintaining the speed limit status quo.  A speed limit of 35 miles per hour through Mentone is not unreasonable.

= ALDOT should consider the opinions of the community they are affecting.  After all, it is the tax dollars from these communities that pay your salaries and help fund these projects!

Alabama is becoming more attractive to retirees and families because of its beauty and affordability.  Proper planning for responsible growth while maintaining the charm and history of its communities should be the top priority, not pushing trucks through and people in faster.  Proper planning would probably bring about the best economic results for the State of Alabama.  Knee jerk reactions to singular issues often results in bad decisions that detrimentally affect the overall dynamics of the community.  Please seriously consider the implications your decisions will have on the community of Mentone.

In the spirit of cooperation, we all should work together, the State of Alabama and all stake holders involved, to achieve what is best for the Alabama communities.  Public meetings and the opinions generated warrant serious consideration.  It should not be viewed as another schedule obligation to hurdle and be done with.  Please provide an explanation and justification as to why the “Preservation Design” is not a valid alternative, otherwise please revise your line of thinking and adopt the “Preservation Design” as the best approach to this project.


Deborah L. Knighton, P.E.
Senior Drainage Engineer
Faller, Davis & Associates, Inc.
5525 W. Cypress Street, Suite 300
Tampa, Fl. 33607
Phone: (813) 261-5136
Fax: (813) 261-5142

Received:  Friday, May 19, 2006, 3:46 PM

I am one of the property owners over at Moon Lake, which borders the Skyline Bridge on Alabama 117.  I feel the unwarranted sting of the label "misguided special interests," as mentioned in Fay Smith's letter below, so I'd like to try to make my position clearer.  I believe, like Mrs. Smith, that improving the safety of the Skyline Bridge absolutely should be the top concern of everyone.  Please understand that my property is not in any way threatened by the construction that would take place under any of the proposed plans, so I am not coming at this from the perspective of one who is afraid his own ox is about to be gored.

Like many, I believe that the status quo is not acceptable, but that does not mean we should sheepishly stand by while the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) thoughtlessly plows ahead with the construction of a drab, off-the-shelf, characterless slab of concrete that obliterates a picturesque, unique, and historic old bridge and blocks much of the view of Little River as one crosses over.  What we have is special.  It is also dangerous to everyone who uses it, and for that reason it DOES need to be improved.  There is a way to do that while maintaining the special nature of the bridge, and that is to replace the current deck with something called a fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) surface that would be much wider and stronger than what we have now.  The process is a lot quicker than the proposed ALDOT construction of a totally new bridge would be, and it would result in the wider and stronger bridge we ALL feel is needed.  Some reinforcement of the current arches might be necessary, but that can be accomplished easily and would not detract from the "look" of the current bridge.  Unfortunately, ALDOT has little or no experience with this type of construction, unlike many of our sister states such as Tennessee.  It appears that they have given no consideration to this approach whatsoever, even though they have been told about it.

I personally know of no one who favors just letting the current structure stay put, as is.  At the risk of being dramatic, anyone who does should consider him or herself an accomplice to murder or mayhem the next time someone is killed or injured trying to cross the Skyline Bridge.  But as I mentioned above, there is another way that is quicker and better:  FRP.  ALDOT needs to shelve its current plan and rethink this thing, and quickly.

Mentone is a special place, with unique people and natural features that are the envy of folks from all over the nation.  Once a new bridge is up, it will be there for decades, at least.  This is our one chance to get it right.  As someone who is about to relocate permanently to Mentone to live out his days in the happy enjoyment of this lovely and special place, I urge ALDOT to try again.  We deserve better.

Holley Midgley
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Tuesday, April 25, 2006, 1:26 PM

I was reading a little about the proposed changes to the bridge in Mentone and had a question regarding the entire situation.  The front page states that GDOT is planning on widening SR 48 between Menlo and Summerville, however I haven’t heard anything about this.  I was curious as to where the author received this information.

I do know that the bridge replacement project in Cloudland is slated to be let in July of 2009 (per an email discussion with the GDOT project manager).  But that project BR-0005-00(530) is for the bridge replacement only and has nothing to do with widening any roads.  We were unable to find any projects which discussed widening SR 48 anytime in the future either.

As someone who commutes between Menlo and Ft. Payne daily, the danger of that curve is on my mind at least twice a day (or if I get squeezed off the thing, sometimes all night long too!).  I am personally very happy that GDOT is planning on taking on the Georgia side of the problem.  I can only hope that something gets resolved on the Alabama side to make even the slowed down traffic a safe drive.

If you have any information that may correct my current belief that this concern of 48/117 becoming an 18-wheeler super highway is a "sky is falling" issue, I would love to hear it.

Stacey Roach
Menlo, Georgia

Received:  Thursday, April 14, 2006, 8:53 AM

These comments are in response to the letter from Joan Bartos that appeared in the Fort Payne Times Journal on March 28, 2006.  I  am also a native Alabamian.  I have lived in Mentone for 45 years. My husband has lived here for 58 years.  Both of our families have been in Mentone far longer than that.  The new bridge is not poorly planned and downright ugly.  I and most of the people I know are very glad the new bridge is being “fast tracked”.  The old bridge is extremely dangerous and has needed to be replaced for a long time.   There is not universal opposition to the new bridge, except from those who do not know what they are talking about.  I really resent people who do not have to contend with this dangerous bridge every day trying to stop something that is very much needed.  I and my family have to cross this bridge every day.  If you meet a large truck, you must stop before crossing the bridge because there isn’t enough room for both vehicles.  A new larger bridge will NOT increase truck traffic, it will only make it safer for all who use it.  Truck companies will always seek the shortest most economical route for their trucks.  Please don’t allow misguided special interests to stop what has been needed in Mentone for a very long time. 

Fay Smith
Mentone, Alabama
(submitted by Arleen Patton, email

Received:  Tuesday, March 28, 2006, 9:50 PM

As someone who lives in Mentone year around, I believe we need to address the issue at hand:  SAFETY.  Yes we need a wider bridge, yes the curve needs to be straightened out.  Whether or not they build a whole new bridge or add another one lane bridge, the 18-wheelers will still go through, and so will the cars and school buses that carry our families and children.  We all love our little town; but when it comes to looks or safety, I would rather have safety.

Dawn Langston
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Sunday, March 19, 2006, 9:35 PM

Letter to the Editor of the Fort Payne Times-Journal:

As a native Alabamian who hopes to return to the state to retire, I was disgusted to see the that the poorly planned and downright ugly Mentone bridge replacement project is being "fast-tracked" by the state of Alabama.  Given that there was almost universal opposition from local residents and lovers of the Mentone/Little River area from all over the country and given that there were several alternatives to this "freeway bridge" through Mentone, one wonders what the reasoning is behind this decision.

The adoption of this expensive, forty foot wide monstrosity, which will replace a beautiful, historic and structurally sound bridge, will result in an increase in truck traffic and destroy the beauty and tranquility of the communities of Mentone, Valley Head and Hammondville.

Everyone interested should speak out on this issue.  Please don't allow greedy and misguided special interests to destroy this precious state jewel.

Joan Bartos
Napa, California

Received:  Wednesday, March 1, 2006, 9:32 AM

At the recent meeting of the Friends of Little River I mentioned "CSS" (Context Sensitive Design Systems).  Basically, CSS is a methodology where a highway department takes complete account of the surrounding environment.  Everyone who has a stake in a project works together for the best solution.  Aesthetics, environment, use, historical and other influencing factors are all considered for the final project.  Case studies have excellent examples of what other communities have done.

I received the following comment from ALDOT last week:  "We have not formally adopted a policy statement on CSD/CSS.  We have generally accepted the principles behind CSS and have incorporated those into the way we do business.  I'm of the opinion that some day we will not be using the term "context sensitive" when we refer to design, because all design will be context sensitive.  Don Arkle" is the transportation community's online resource center for CSS.  The best page I found to start at is:  The site is geared towards engineers, but most of the reading is easy.

The publication and case study sections are very informative.  One of the most applicable studies I found is:  "When Main Street is a State Highway".  The study focuses on a Maryland community whose problems are similar to Mentone's.  The full text is online at:

Slate McDorman
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Saturday, January 7, 2006, 3:22 PM

I just bought a home on Hwy 117 in Valley Head, about 3/4 of a mile from town.  It sits on a hill with five acres and across the highway is a beautiful farm. Are you saying that three lanes of highway could run through Valley Head to I-59?

What is the response from the people of Valley Head?

I guess I need to join the effort to stop this proposition.  You are saying no one really wants to talk about it but, if Georgia already has planned the lane expansion to the state line, then Alabama most probably has its own plans.

I am new to the area so this is of great concern to me since Mentone and the charm of the mountain setting is why I am moving here.

I noticed a lot of truck traffic on Highway 117 but thought it was coming from Highway 35 through Fort Payne.  So is all this truck traffic passing my house in Valley Head coming through Mentone on Highway 117?

Thanks for listening.  I would be interested in your feedback and any way that I may be of assistance in the future.

Stephanie McNeill-Donoghue
Valley Head, Alabama

Received:  Thursday, May 05, 2005, 8:30 PM

Johnny L. Harris                                                                      May 5, 2005
Division Engineer
P. O. Box 550
Guntersville,  AL 35976-0550

Thank you for your presentation in Mentone on May 3rd.

The Alabama Historic Bridge Inventory by The University of Alabama Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering which was prepared for ALDOT in 1998 states that the Mentone Bridge (BIN 543) is a "good example of this type" of bridge for eligibility for the National Historic Register.  It recommends eligibility under "Criteria C.1" as a "good example of a particular type of bridge" and states that the Mentone Bridge is "one of the best examples of a smaller concrete open spandrel arch" bridge.  Since ALDOT’s bridge design options 1, 2, 3 and 4 all require destruction of Mentone’s existing historic bridge, these four options are all absolutely unacceptable.

Of the two remaining design options proposed by ALDOT, I prefer Option 5 because it preserves both the existing historic bridge and its view from the river.  Another benefit of Option 5 is that it will not require expensive relocation of Mentone’s water line, power lines and other utilities.

ALDOT can, however, improve on Option 5 by locating its proposed new single-lane bridge closer to the existing bridge, thereby lessening the impact of the project on Camp Skyline (and lessening the corresponding costs).  Even better, ALDOT can construct half of the new bridge on each side of the existing bridge, thereby effectively widening the existing bridge within the current highway right-of-way.  By doing this, you will not have to disturb property on either side of the road.  You will also save the cost of two bridge railings.

Please consider this latter concept as your Option 7.  It is the most acceptable option for people concerned about Mentone, more than 300 of which have already signed a petition supporting it.  It is also, by far, the least expensive option for ALDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

My first choice is Option 7.  My second choice is Option 5.  Please include this letter in the Official Record of Project BR-0204(512).

Tom Donald
Birmingham, Alabama

Received:  Friday, April 29, 2005, 12:44 PM

(This is from a letter dated April 28th to Johnny Harris at ALDOT.)

As a homeowner in Mentone, Alabama I have been concerned, along with others, about the proposals for replacing the Skyline Bridge on Highway 117 in Mentone.  As I expressed to you before, I believe the narrow width of the bridge, an excessive speed limit, and the blind approach to it from the east are the major problems with this fine old structure.

There is growing sentiment in Mentone to keep the current bridge, but to widen it.  This would accomplish many of our mutual goals, such as creating a safer passage while maintaining the aesthetic quality of the current structure.   Mentone, as you probably know, is not an ordinary town; it is a singularly charming and scenic area.  Those who treasure Mentone have worked diligently over the years to preserve its special nature.

Although the Department has apparently produced plans for maintaining and improving the existing Skyline Bridge, I am concerned that there are apparently no intentions to present those plans at the upcoming May 3rd public meeting.   It would appear that the current four plans to be presented would call for replacing the current bridge with a wider, concrete span, reducing the angle of the eastern approach curve somewhat, and increasing the speed limit.  These plans are unacceptable to many of the area’s residents, and I believe it is the feeling of most that this is not progress.  I would respectfully ask that you consider presenting the proposals which would preserve and improve the current bridge, via widening, at the May 3rd meeting at Moon Lake School.

Holley Midgley
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Friday, April 15, 2005, 10:40 AM

Please think seriously about reconstructing this historical bridge - not removing it.  It is not the bridge itself that causes traffic accidents; it is the speed of the vehicle and the existing curve.  This bridge also allows the river to flow freely beneath it.  A newly designed bridge could cut that flow unless designed specifically in a way it will not destroy the flow of an environmentally fragile river.  As I have property downstream from this bridge, I have major concerns regarding this design.  The bridge should be designed in such a way that it retains its aesthetic value and the nature of the city of Mentone itself.  The modern bridge is an abomination - just concrete.  It does not reflect the atmosphere that the city of Mentone is preserving.  We must ask ourselves what brings people to Mentone?  It is for its natural beauty and simplicity - it is a "jewel" in the crown of most desirable cities that are being overdeveloped and destroyed for greed or modernization.

I can speak from experience as I currently live in Florida.  We continue to fight for our environment here, which is why many people flock to Florida.  They enjoy our beaches, rivers and fresh water springs.  However, due to development and greed, Florida is being swallowed up by pavement.  What's sad is that the reason for tourists to come to Florida is being destroyed by those who believe progress includes more houses, hotels on the beaches, and constant destruction of open natural areas.  With the development comes a need for sand mines and lime rock pits.  These businesses, once again, completely devastate the wetlands and open agricultural areas by placing their sand mines and lime rock pits in areas where wildlife once flourished and springs once flowed.  It is destroying our aquifer, and as we all know, water is a diminishing resource - especially here in Florida.  Therefore, Florida will one day be a very unattractive place and the tourists will stop visiting.  This will indeed affect our economy - which is the antithesis of what the developers wanted in the first place.  Now there will be no one to stay in their fancy hotels, the beaches will be polluted, the water supply diminished or polluted as well.  I am comparing Mentone with Florida for a reason.  Please don't let this "modernization" factor become part of a beautiful little town called Mentone.

It is all a matter of time.  To have a "state of the art" modern bridge may not be what Mentone really wants.  As I mentioned before, the bridge on 117 is not the problem - it is truly the curve and the speed of the vehicles.  Speed restrictions are a "priority" discussion.  The semi trucks fly down the hill and do not have the capability of stopping to prevent an accident.  You would be doing the residents that live on 117 a favor if serious speed restrictions were implemented and observed.  It is a shame that these trucks cannot take some other route.  They should be denied access to 117 altogether.

Please think about the direction you want Mentone to move in.  You already have a "jewel" which can continue to shine or fade as so many other cities have already done.  A modern bridge can be the beginning of the devastation of an atmosphere.  It may sound unrealistic; however, it is not!  This wonderful bridge is one "gateway" to Mentone.  It sets the tone of a quaint, friendly town - one that is seeking to preserve its history and value.  Plan carefully, because this is also my "home town", and I have entrusted its "flavor" to those who govern Mentone.  Please don't follow the path that Florida has chosen.  Please look carefully at Mentone and look into the future of this mountain top "jewel".  It is a rarity, and I pray you will continue to preserve "our town".

Thank you,
Laurie Douglass

Received:  Friday, April 8, 2005, 11:00 AM


Build a new twelve-foot wide bridge where the old covered bridge was (about a half mile downstream from the current bridge).  Traffic could be controlled by a light at each end of the bridge.

Limit traffic to not allow large trucks.  Local trucks could use the bridge near DeSoto Park.  Cross-mountain truck traffic could be detoured at Menlo and Valleyhead to SR-35.

Block SR-117 at the hardware store and at the junction of Highway Above the Clouds and SR-117.  Detour traffic to go by the school on the east side and down the street near the hardware store on the west side, as shown on the drawing.

Widen the existing bridge on SR-117 and straighten the curve in the road as much as possible.  Or, if the existing bridge is structurally unsafe, build a new one in its place.

The new one-lane bridge could be removed when no longer needed or left in place to be used as a walking bridge.

By doing this, the contractor would not be hampered by traffic, could use less workers and would finish the job much quicker.  Costs should be approximately 1/3 to 1/2 less than doing it the other way.  Time should be cut by 20 to 25%.

Homer Crow
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Tuesday, March 22, 2005, 1:25 PM

To Mayor Hammond and the fine ladies who run the Groundhog, I offer my full apologies for any misstatements I made.  In no way was it my intention to offend those with whom I share this wonderful community.   Due to the circumstances of this situation, I jumped to conclusions and used a poor choice of words as a result.

However, I would appreciate knowing who made the decision that my and other articles were inappropriate to run and why.  The final solution to the bridge problem has a direct effect on my family as well as the community.  I am deeply worried that enlarging the bridge is only a step towards the further widening of Highway 117.  I further feel that alternative solutions to address the safety problem have been disregarded prematurely without any traffic studies to justify the decisions.

The Groundhog is the only publication that focuses specifically on our community and our needs.  Being the only resource that can effectively communicate these issues to our area, I hope that it will be so used for the benefit of the community in this final month before ALDOT presents its plans.

Once again, I apologize for my misstatements and hope this does not damage our ability to work together.

Slate McDorman
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Wednesday, March 16, 2005, 12:04 PM

Slate McDorman is mistaken when he states Town Hall did not allow his editorial to be published in The Groundhog.  The Groundhog is published by the Mentone Area Preservation Association and the mayor and council have no connection to the paper and are not members of MAPA.  The town clerk, Marie Dillenbeck, does work on the paper as a member of MAPA.  The editor of the paper, Evelyn Graves, makes the ultimate decision on what is included or not included in the MAPA publication.

Rob Hammond, Mayor
Town of Mentone

Received:  Monday, March 14, 2005, 10:18 PM

I have done some research into the accidents which have occurred on or near the bridge, with the intention of discovering what could have been done to have prevented them.  The results of my research were included in a letter to Mentone Mayor Rob Hammond and the Town Council.  I was given five minutes to discuss the issues at the Town Council meeting today.

Attached to my letter were brief descriptions of all of the accidents in the Town of Mentone’s files and proposals for three actions which, had they been taken earlier, would probably have prevented most, if not all, of these accidents.

My first proposal regarding enforcing the speed limit was rejected because, it was contended, the Town of Mentone does not have the resources for doing anything more than what is already being done.  It was explained that Mentone’s policemen, who work a total of 90 hours per week, issued 15 traffic citations last month and it was felt that this was all that should be expected of them.  There were also contentions that there weren’t many speeders, that the prevalence of speeders was hearsay, that the speed of large trucks seemed higher than it actually was, and that neither the mayor nor the council members were actually responsible for making sure that people didn’t speed.

My second proposal was that the vegetation obscuring sight of the bridge from vehicles approaching from the southeast be removed so that hidden vehicles slowly entering the bridge would not be rear-ended.  This idea was rejected because it was contended that the vegetation was not in the highway right-of-way and that, therefore, the Town of Mentone could do nothing about it.  It was further contended that the drivers of the vehicles hit from the rear should have been going faster.

My third proposal that the blind curve be straightened by swinging the road onto the property to the southwest was rejected, because my five minutes of time expired before it could be addressed.

Tom Donald
Birmingham, Alabama

Received:  Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 12:17 AM

Attached is an editorial I wrote for Mentone's Groundhog.  I was informed by Town Hall, a week after I wrote this, that it was "inappropriate at this time."  I find this wounding, since my family has watched the highway problems develop over the past 77 years and any solution will have a direct effect upon us.  Most communities I know give a voice to those who are affected by such large-scale projects.

I asked when my editorial would be appropriate and was told, “when a meeting comes up.”  Since that date is supposed to be this month, I am even more confused by the refusal.  My assumption is I brought up issues which Town Hall would rather not have brought up.  I hope you enjoy my thoughts!

Slate McDorman
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Sunday, February 27, 2005, 12:51 PM

After reading all comments and the safety page, it seems a good idea to
consider the plan proposed on the safety page (..concepts for addressing
the immediate safety issue....).  This plan would be less invasive than
the upstream/downstream rebuilding.  I would endorse straightening the
curve as suggested in that plan and adding a pedestrian/bike/equestrian
path to the current bridge by attaching it outside the current span. 
Hopefully, this could be engineered without excessive problems.

We bike across the bridge only after long periods of scrutiny to be sure
no trucks are coming.  Of course, no observation really works around the
curve.  We just wing it and hope for the best.

It really makes no sense that the speed limit cannot be lowered as it is
25 mph just a few feet away during school hours.  I was under the
impression all city speed limits were a maximum 35 mph anyway.  What's
so hard about changing a speed limit sign?

Susan Van Apeldoorn
Mentone, Alabama  /  Atlanta, Georgia

Received:  Sunday, February 20, 2005, 12:21 PM

My family has owned property near the Little River Bridge in Mentone since 1945.  Like so many others, I have witnessed accidents on the bridge.  It is my opinion that most, if not all, were caused by excessive speed and the amount of curve leading up to the bridge heading into Mentone from Georgia.  Mr. Johnny Harris of ALDOT has stated that the speed limit on the new bridge will not be lowered.  Therefore, I believe that the best way to lower the number of accidents would be to lessen the curve of the highway by choosing the upstream design.

Charles Shepard Midgley
Gadsden, Alabama

Received:  Wednesday, February 16, 2005, 9:57 PM

The zeal for building a new bridge over Little River should be given some deeper consideration.  The last thing residents of Mentone and campers should want is more huge and noisy tractor-trailer rigs barreling through town.  Why, then, build a big, new, wide bridge simply to make the road through Mentone more attractive for these obnoxious trucks?  This road should be a quiet country lane, not a freeway!

Build it to solve the safety problem, some say.  But witnesses to the accidents contend that it is not the bridge but the curve that is the problem, and the curve can be fixed with far less disruption and for far lower costs than building a new bridge.

Build a new bridge anyway, just to be sure, some say.  But at what sacrifice?  The existing bridge is as much a symbol of Mentone as is Little River and DeSoto Falls.  It has a very unusual arch design and, since it was built in 1928, as I understand, it has certainly stood the test of time.  If it must be wider, make it wider.  If it must be stronger, make it stronger.  But, don’t needlessly destroy it.

The safety problems can and should be addressed immediately (not next year) by straightening the curve east of the bridge, by posting adequate warnings, by lowering the speed limit, and by stringently enforcing the lower speed limit.  This can be done for far lower costs, with far less disruption, without promoting truck traffic, and with preservation of Mentone’s historic landmark bridge.  Just do it!

Tom Donald
Birmingham, Alabama

Received:  Saturday, February 5, 2005, 1:17 PM

This is from a letter from Senator Lowell Barron dated February 3, 2005.

Thank you for your interest in the location of the replacement of the bridges along Alabama Highway 117 in Mentone. I understand your concern for maintaining the beauty of the area, and we must also improve the safety of the area.

I was in contact with the Department of Transportation today, and was told they have expedited the replacement process. They are only now beginning the environmental and site location studies. There has been no determination to date as to where the bridge inside the Mentone Town limits will be placed.

I am advised that, as required by Federal law, once all possible routes have been determined and the cost estimates of each possibility have been determined, the Department of Transportation will hold public meetings. These meetings will allow all interested parties the opportunity to view each possibility and offer his or her input into the matter before a final site selection is made. This public meeting must be advertised in the local newspaper (most likely The Times Journal) at least three weeks prior to the meeting. I am told the earliest possible date for this meeting will be the later portion of March 2005.

I hope you find this information helpful, and I appreciate your continued interest in the beauty and safety of DeKalb County.

Sen. Lowell Barron
President Pro Tem
Alabama Senate

Received:  Wednesday, February 2, 2005, 12:20 PM

This is from an email sent to Johnny L. Harris, Division Engineer of ALDOT's Guntersville office, on Tuesday, February 1, 2005.

I understand that plans are being made for new speed limits, warning signs and lights, etc., to address the safety problems associated with the bridge at Mentone.

It’s been roughly three months since the accident which got everyone’s attention.  Thus far, the only on-site change has been the installation of a device to show drivers how fast they are going.  Aside from the fact that the device hasn’t worked for at least the past week, it is on the wrong side of the bridge facing the wrong way.  It should be on the southeast side of the bridge so that drivers entering Mentone from the east can be warned if they are going too fast.  The safety problem is associated with vehicles approaching the bridge from the east, from out of town.  Vehicles approaching the bridge from the west, from the center of town, are not a problem.  The speed display should be repaired and moved to the other side of the river and faced east as soon as possible.

The speed limit should be lowered to 35 mph at the Mentone town limit east of the bridge.  Immediately inside the town limit there is a civic center, a grammar-school library and a church.  The young children’s school is behind the library. Across the road are two camps for young girls.  All of this alone justifies a 35 mph speed limit.  As one approaches the bridge while driving past all of these reasons to go slow, there is a blind curve obscuring the bridge.  Surely the speed limit should be 35 mph for this curve, where the recent accident occurred, and for the bridge.

Prior to construction of a new bridge, other changes might also be merited.  Please see for some good ideas on this issue.

This is from Mr. Harris' prompt response the next day.

The speed display will not be repositioned as we have established a radar unit on the first approach to each of the 2 bridges that are on SR-117 between Mentone and the Ga. State Line.  These units are in place temporarily as a courtesy to motorists.

The legal speed limit will not be changed; however, we are placing an advisory speed limit sign on the narrow bridge signs that are in place on the approaches to each bridge.  Also, these sign installations will be outfitted with caution lights that will flash continuously.  We are in the process of securing the materials to accomplish this and hope to be able to complete this work in the next few weeks.

No other changes are planned at this time; however, the Department will monitor the area and make any adjustments as deemed appropriate.  We have recently replaced some of the chevrons on the approaches to the bridges as part of our continuous maintenance activities.

Received:  Tuesday, February 1, 2005, 10:40 PM

In 1954 I was involved in a wreck at the bridge.  A friend was killed and I was severely injured, and I drag my leg as a consequence.  My accident was caused by the curve, not the bridge.  We don't need a safer bridge; we need a safer curve.  I want to thank Mayor Hammond for taking this so seriously.  I take it very seriously also.

Curtis Gipson
Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Received:  Tuesday, February 1, 2005, 2:29 PM

Why They Crashed on the Bridge

I was in my driveway on October 28, 2004, when I heard the four loud "bangs" from the bridge.  I ran the 200 feet to the highway and offered assistance to the victims of the terrible crash that had happened seconds before.  After talking to the drivers of the accident, it was obvious what the cause of the crash was and it will probably surprise you.  The accident was caused by the curve in the road, not the bridge.

The "protocol" with truckers who are familiar with the narrow bridges on Highway 117 is to call on their CB before crossing to warn drivers coming from the opposite direction.  In the case of the accident, the west-bound 18-wheeler was unfamiliar with the curve and bridge and was probably going too fast, so he ignored or missed the call of the east-bound 18-wheeler that was crossing the bridge.  When the west-bound 18-wheeler entered the curve and saw the other truck on the bridge, he panicked, hit the brakes, jackknifed, skidded across the
center-line and hit the east-bound 18-wheeler on the driver side fender.  This caused the east-bound 18-wheeler to loose control, cross the center-line himself, and crash into the stone fence of the first house on the north-east corner of the bridge.  The west-bound truck, now forced back into his lane, entered the bridge and swiped the Cadillac that was tailgating the east-bound 18-wheeler, causing the Cadillac to stop after being crunched into the railing of the bridge.  The west-bound truck then crossed the center-line again and hit the pickup, flipping it over and injuring its driver seriously.  The truck then completely crossed the road, went into the ditch, and came to a stop in the ditch on the south side of the highway.

The catalyst of the accident was the curve, not the bridge.  The bridge was to blame for causing the west-bound 18-wheeler to panic when he saw the other truck on the narrow bridge.  So what are the safe solutions to the problem?  The most expensive solution is to straighten the road.  If the road were straight, the trucks could see other trucks approaching from a distance and yield.  But altering the road means buying land from the locals.  This is expensive, time-consuming, and likely to cause legal battles.

The cheapest and quickest solution is to slow the trucks down and force them to yield by installing traffic lights on both sides of the bridge to allow only a single flow of traffic across the bridge.  The safety page on your website illustrates this concept well.  The traffic lights determining one-way traffic on the bridge are, in essence, a more fail-safe means for accomplishing what the truckers have long been trying to do with their CB radios.

Christopher Bladon
Mentone, Alabama

Note by WebMaster:  The official report on the accident included the following information:

VECH #1 is a 2001 International tractor with a trailer.
VECH #2 is a 2001 Cadillac sedan.
VECH #3 is a 2004 Dodge pickup.
VECH #4 is a 2003 International tractor with a trailer.






Received:  Thursday, January 27, 2005, 12:53 PM

I add my voice to those advocating keeping the existing bridge at Little River on Highway 117 (if it is structurally safe) and adding speed control devices to slow down the traffic flow.

If a new bridge is required, with increased safety being the main driving point, then it seems foolhardy to build on the downstream side.  An upstream design is a far simpler solution.

Thomas Cash
Gadsden, Alabama

Received:  Friday, January 21, 2005, 2:29 PM

As a property and home owner in Mentone, Alabama, I am writing to express my feelings on the proposals for replacing the dangerous bridge over Highway 117.  As you know, the vicinity of the picturesque old bridge has long been something of a death trap, and I agree that the problem is overdue for fixing.

In reviewing the two proposals for replacing the bridge itself, as well as the lead-up to it from the east, I strongly favor the upstream route.  It is straighter and shorter and simpler, which makes that plan infinitely preferable.  A straight approach to the new bridge is a factor as important to consider as the narrowness of the current bridge.

Because of its much greater length, the downstream approach would be more expensive for the Highway Department, and thus the taxpayers, to construct.  It would also necessitate the destruction of two homes and require the state to purchase more land to accommodate that route.  The proposed downstream route would only minimally reduce the dangerous curve in the approach to a new bridge.  Additionally, the water line would have to be rerouted, at considerable expense to the town of Mentone, and utility, phone, and cable lines would also have to be moved since they are on the side of the road where the downstream route would go.

I would also hope that the speed limit would be significantly reduced until a new bridge is completed.  I would suggest we keep the old bridge and incorporate it into extended walking paths currently in downtown Mentone.  This path could stretch from town all the way to the new library, which would be a real fitness boon to Mentone.

Holley Midgley, Jr.
Mentone, Alabama

Received:  Wednesday, January 19, 2005, 12:23 PM

(From a letter to Senator Barron, Mr. McInnes and Mr. Harris)

It has come to my attention that a new bridge is being planned, under your direction, for the crossing over the West Fork of the Little River, just southeast of the town center of Mentone, Alabama.  It is my hope that the project is approached with the utmost consideration and respect for the both the surrounding community and the landowners in the immediate vicinity of the bridge.

I ardently recommend that the new bridge be of a design that lends itself to blend into, or at least compliment the environment in which it is located.  The bridge should utilize current construction techniques and materials to reduce sound levels radiating from the bridge and any new roadways.  The sounds of traffic on the highway, and the whoosh and thump of vehicles passing over the bridge are a very unfortunate by-product of the road that leads through Mentone, and the sad, but true, fact is that the highway continues to get louder and faster as time goes on.  The sound of traffic on the bridge can often be heard over a mile away up and down the river channel.  Simple details such as joint seals and surface texture can make a huge difference in the sounds radiating from the bridge, and attention to details such as these will be greatly appreciated by those who live in the area around the bridge.

Given that Mentone is known for its children's camps, its cool, clean air and rustic seclusion, having a high-speed highway through the community, can only be viewed as a detriment, and the tractor-trailer rigs zooming down 117 as a deadly nuisance.  It should be noted, and you are no doubt aware of this fact, that the least expensive, and most effective way, to simultaneously reduce vehicle noise and accidents resulting from traffic is through the reduction of vehicle speed.  I hope that the accomplishment of this is considered by each of you to be an important and integral part of any new structure.  Structural issues aside, setting and enforcing a speed limit in keeping with the setting, say around 30 miles-per-hour, would eliminate the need for a costly new bridge altogether.

T. Chris Donald
Birmingham, Alabama

Received:  Wednesday, January 19, 2005, 10:03 AM

It would seem that the upstream design makes more sense for the following reasons:

The curving approach to the bridge will be straightened in the simplest possible way.

Construction costs and potential disruption to the Town of Mentone, due to power and water interruptions, will be greater with the downstream design.

There would be a serious loss of amenity to landowners in immediate proximity to the downstream design. This would be a compensable item should they decide to sue the State for said loss.

Given the likely increased costs and reduced highway safety flowing from a downstream design, it would appear the upstream design is the better alternative.

Richard B. Williams, M.E.S. (Master of Environmental Studies)
Salt Springs, Nova Scotia

Received:  Tuesday, January 18, 2005, 9:15 AM

As a frequent visitor to Mentone, I want to share with you my views on the proposed new bridge over the west fork of the Little River.

One of the charms of Mentone is the slower pace of the lovely mountain town.  It’s a great place to visit when you need a break from the rat race of city life.  The history of Mentone adds to its ambience.  As with many small towns, the revenue that visitors bring to Mentone is critical to the town’s survival.

It is therefore with great concern that I have read of the proposed idea for constructing a new bridge over the downstream side of the west fork of the Little River.

It is my understanding that one reason for the new bridge is that it will allow vehicles to travel at higher speeds.  The upstream proposal, with its straighter approach to the bridge, seems to be the simplest solution for existing safety problems.  Speed limit measures would result in safer foot and bicycle traffic.  A slower speed of vehicles on this main road would also encourage residents and visitors to “browse” the shops and restaurants.  People tend to spend more money when it is a visitor-friendly environment.

Of equal concern is that the downstream design will also require relocation of all of the utility lines in the area as well as the relocation of the water main which runs along the south-west side of the highway.  This disruption of the utility infrastructure will probably be very expensive, especially for the Town of Mentone.

Taking all of this into consideration, I highly recommend that if a new bridge must be built, you choose the option of building it upstream of the current site.  In addition, I would hope that you could incorporate the existing bridge, and its historic significance, into your plans – perhaps as a pedestrian walkway that would add to the safety and beauty of Mentone.

Hollis Duty
Washington, D.C.

Received:  Monday, January 17, 2005, 5:27 PM

In determining the course of the construction, it seems to me quite obvious that the upstream side of the present bridge would be the more desirable route.  My judgment places emphasis on the safety aspect.  The upstream side of the present bridge would provide the simplest and quickest solution to the safety problems.  Safety should certainly be a dominant factor in the decision.

My memory goes back some fifty odd years ago when I was nearby when a teen-aged boy was killed in an accident on the present bridge.  I hope the Highway Department will give this safety concern prime consideration.

Alice MacNeill
Anniston, Alabama

Received:  Monday, January 17, 2005, 7:36 AM

Very good summary of the West Fork Bridge project on your website. It is critical that ALDOT specifically define why they are building a new bridge. Is the old one falling apart, is it specifically to reduce accidents, is it to meet some generic highway design standard?

An important concern for Mentone residents is that a new bridge will allow traffic to drive on Highway 117 at even faster speeds. Is this really what we want? What good is having a pedestrian and bike trail next to the road if trucks and cars are speeding by at 65 mph just a few feet away? The whole concept is inconsistent with the character of Mentone as a refuge from the hectic pace of the big cities.

I suggest as an alternative that Mentone residents consider working with ALDOT to implement a plan for modifying Highway 117 all the way back to the city limits in a manner that reduces the speed of all drivers, provides for a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly thoroughfare, and creates an even more scenic approach to the center of town. With all traffic at slower speeds, it is less likely that the bridge would have to be replaced or at least the change would be less severe. Slower traffic speeds and a more pedestrian-friendly environment also would benefit local merchants.

Jim Renner
Atlanta, Georgia

(Note by WebMaster:  Mr. Renner is a professional environmental consultant with experience in assessing environmental impacts of highway projects throughout the eastern United States.)


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