By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Cullman County received over $20 million in road project money Monday, including approval for a massive undertaking that has been in the pike for nearly a decade.
After years of false starts — many coming within the past 12 months — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has officially approved $10 million to build an Interstate 65 interchange on County Road 222 near Good Hope. Senator Paul Bussman announced the funding at an impromptu press conference Monday afternoon at Cullman city hall. Nearly a dozen other, smaller projects were also approved for roads and communities across the county.
Property acquisition and utility relocations will start immediately and construction on the interchange is expected to begin by the end of the year. The new exit could open within two years.
“This afternoon Gov. Bentley approved round two of the ATRIP money with $400 million for road and bridge work in Alabama,” Bussman told a crowd of approximately 50 civic and business leaders, to rapturous applause. “The County Road 222 interchange was the final project approved.”
The funds are part of an Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) 80/20 matching grant, meaning approximately $2 million of the project will be paid for locally. The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce has already agreed to use 70 percent of some lodging tax money on the project, which should cover more than half. The remaining cost will be split between the City of Cullman, Cullman County and the City of Good Hope.
“I was so pleased to watch the city, county, Good Hope and the Chamber all together at the table working to get something done,” Bussman said. “If not for that cooperation, we wouldn’t be standing here today. The Chamber stepped up tremendously in a generous way.”
Bussman noted the project came under fire in recent months, as the cost ballooned to several million more than originally projected. But he credited Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) officials for working the details out to everyone’s satisfaction.
“The last addition was about a $7 million addition and that struck a raw nerve with me,” he said.
Cullman County Commission Associate Commissioner Stanley Yarbrough credited much of the work to Bussman and said he believes the interchange will be a great development for the area.
“It’s a benefit for everyone in Cullman County,” he said. “It’s not just a benefit to one entity, but a benefit for all.”
Charlie NeSmith, Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce chairman, said the interchange project should be a major economic catalyst and he is proud the organization could play a role in funding it.
“It’s a good feeling, knowing we can be a participant in this joint venture,” he said. “There are so many positives in this interchange. It’s definitely a benefit for tourism and it opens up so many more avenues.”
The promise of an interchange on Co. Rd. 222 was actually part of the recruitment package to attract automotive parts manufacturer Topre America to the area several years ago, before the initiative was mired in delays at the state level.
“When we promise a company we’re going to do something, we’ll do everything in our power to keep that promise,” Bussman said.
Topre public relations director Carl English said the long-delayed interchange will be a major asset for the company once it opens.
“We’ve been waiting for that for a very long time and we are very pleased with the Governor and Sen. Bussman,” he said. “We have 70 trucks a day turning off Hwy. 69 right there and it’s a very sharp turn and a hard spot to navigate. This will be great for businesses in the area.”
Cullman Mayor Max Townson noted the confirmation could also help the area’s odds as the city jockeys to be the home of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Officials have submitted a proposal to the hall of fame board to build a hall of fame and multipurpose facility on the former Burrow property the city owns on Co. Rd. 222. Cullman and the City of Guntersville are finalists and the board is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks.
“I can assure you we’ll pass this information on and let them know we’re working on it,” Cullman Mayor Max Townson said. “Construction time on the hall of fame would probably be about two years, which would match up with the timeline for the interchange. That would work out perfectly.”
Here’s a breakdown of the other ATRIP projects awarded in Cullman County. These totals reflect complete project cost, which includes 80 percent from the state and a 20 percent local match:
CR-565 Resurface and Guardrails from CR-490 to Hanceville CL: $922,000.
Beech Grove Road over Bavar Creek: $1.37 million.
Resurface CR-747 from Blount/Cullman County Line to CR-1545: $3.1 million.
Resurface CR-1101 from Lawrence/Cullman County Line to
SR-157: $1.2 million.
Resurface CR-1435 from Morgan/Cullman County Line to SR-157: $1.18 million.
Resurface CR-1223 from US-31 to CR-1242: $1 million.
Resurface CR-698/55 from SR-91 to Holly Pond town limits: $145,000.
Resurface CR-1669 from Fairview City Limits to SR-69: $236,000.
CR-222 Resurface from SR-69 to CR-109: $478,000.
CR-222 Resurface from CR-310 to CR-410: $470,500.
Hanceville Resurface Commercial Street from SR-91 to CR-565: $181,800.
South Vinemont US-311 turn lanes and median crossover: $233,200 .