BB Comer Bridge Update: Impartial Economic Survey to be Undertaken

Overview of the slough, approach and main spans of the BB Comer Bridge. Photo taken by David Kennamer

SCOTSBORO, ALABAMA- The clock is ticking as far as the future of the BB Comer Bridge is concerned. The replacement span is close to completion, and there are still some issues to settle as far as the future of the 1930 steel cantilever truss bridge is concerned. Apart from the ownership and liability, some further studies on the impact of keeping the historic bridge- among them economic, are being considered. As you can see in the most recent press release by the Comer Bridge Foundation, a grant is being sought so that an independent entity is hired to conduct an impartial economic survey, which will in turn persuade county officials to hand over ownership to the CBF once the new bridge is open to traffic. The date of the completion as well as the eventual demolition has not yet been set, however parties will have to act quickly but thoroughly to ensure that once the new bridge is open, the decision on the future of the old bridge will be made to benefit all the parties involved. More information on the progress of the bridge is in the press release below:

SCOTTSBORO, AL, January 30, 2015 — After the January 26, 2015, meeting of the Scottsboro City Council, the Comer Bridge Foundation (CBF) is now identifying and hiring an independent entity to prepare an economic impact study. The B.B. Comer Bridge crosses the Tennessee River near Scottsboro, Alabama. An application for grant funding to assist with procuring the study will be submitted to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to comply with the Trust’s deadline (February 2, 2015).

“We have determined that such a study is essential for CBF to show local citizens and governmental bodies how much the bridge can bring to the area, which in turn will help CBF gain eventual ownership of the bridge and prevent the bridge’s demolition. The timeline for demolition is not as tight as we anticipated, and we have time to explore how to lessen risks while growing the rewards of keeping the bridge intact,” explained CBF President Charles Holderfield.

“The study will solidify CBF’s commitment to saving, preserving and repurposing the bridge at an upcoming meeting of the Jackson County Commission,” said Holderfield.

In March 2014, CBF entered into a collaborative agreement with The N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA), another bridge-preservation group. Local attorneys Bill Tally and Justin Lackey represent CBF and NSRGA, respectively.

“The study will provide real numbers that support our plans to provide jobs, training and education in areas from hospitality, event management, security and maintenance,” shared Julie Bowers, executive director of Workin’ Bridges, the consulting arm of NSRGA. “The bridge can become a place to go for wellness and serenity, and a place where wildlife and human life are celebrated. Food, fun, music and historic preservation go hand-in-hand.”

The board of directors for CBF and NSRGA submitted a formal purchase plan to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), which currently owns the bridge. In September 2014, however, ALDOT informed the two organizations that the bridge could be sold only to a governmental entity. With support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Land Trust of North Alabama, Justin Lackey went before the Scottsboro City Council in mid-January 2015 to request that a tourism development authority be formed by the City to take ownership of the bridge. In addition to owning, leasing and developing land, improving and managing real estate and owning equipment, the authority could also employ personnel, execute documents, and accept and receive gifts from the public or private funds. It would also be able to apply for and receive federal grants.

The City Council members asked for additional time to study the request prior to its next regular meeting on January 26, at which time Lackey requested that the Council vote on the creation of the tourism development authority. The City deferred voting on the authority, with the majority of the Council members agreeing that the City could approve such an authority only in partnership with the County Commission. CBF will provide the economic impact study to the County Commission for review prior to formally requesting that the Commission consider partnering with the City Council to create the tourism development authority.

Comer Bridge, completed in 1930, is the last of the 15 memorial toll bridges enacted by legislation in 1927 that were built by the Kansas City Bridge Company but contracted through the Alabama State Bridge Corporation. Selected for the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in October 2013, the historic bridge will now be submitted for national recognition by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Certificate from the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

More updates on the BB Comer Bridge will be posted in the Chronicles as the story unfolds. In the meantime, you follow the events in real time, just by visiting  the CBF website at www.comerbridge.org and considering  liking CBF’s Friends of B.B. Comer Bridge at https://www.facebook.com/comerbridgefoundation. There you can find out more about how you can help save the bridge.

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