- Cullman, Alabama

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September 21, 2012

Local, state officials still meeting on Co. Rd 222 interchange

Plans for an Interstate 65 interchange on County Road 222 have been in the works for years, and officials are now closer than ever to making it a reality. But, some last-minute cost changes could potentially derail the project before it even gets started.

The project has been at the top of the list for local leaders for years, as some large industries are located on Co. Rd. 222, and economic recruiters are in the final phases of attracting the $28-30 million Bass Fishing Hall of Fame to the city-owned Burrow property — which lies just off Co. Rd. 222.

Officials had hoped the approximately $8 million project would be mostly paid for via a 80/20 state matching grant, but now it seems some accompanying costs may not be covered under the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) program.

The initiative may not cover expenses associated to property acquisition and moving some major utilities, including a large fiber optic line and gas line. If costs climb, it could increase the City of Cullman and the Cullman County Commission’s matching portion beyond what local government can afford.

Originally, the city and county were being asked to split approximately $1.6 million in costs for the match. After factoring in the added costs, that amount could climb by several more million to make the project a reality.

“All the purchasing of the land could be around $1.6 million; and all the movement of utilities is about $2.4 million,” Cullman County Commission Chairman James Graves. “Combined, that could come up to slightly over $4 million that has to be covered, separate from the construction costs. If it continues that way, it could get a little bit beyond our means.”

Graves said local leaders are still working to make the project a reality, with a meeting scheduled soon with state Rep. Paul Bussman to discuss the funding concerns. If that doesn’t work, Graves said local leaders may head to Washington, D.C. for help.

“We’re absolutely trying to see what can be done, and looking at the possibility of a trip to D.C. if it will pay dividends,” he said. “We’re trying to set up meetings with U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby to see if it’d be possible for them to earmark any monies.”

Graves said the potential interchange is poised for growth, and he believes the county and city will do everything within their collective power to make it happen. But, he said he would not drain the county’s reserve to pay an exorbitantly high price tag.

“It plays such an important role with industry there, and there’s the potential for even more growth, as well,” he said. “But, we can’t just spend everything to cover this, because you never know when a bridge may wash out, or you may need your reserve. You have to have some money put back for emergencies.”

One community that would likely benefit from the interchange is the nearby city of Good Hope. Good Hope Mayor Corey Harbison said he is definitely in favor of the project, but said the town is not in a position to offer any financial assistance at this time.

“We’re absolutely in support, and we’re going to pass letters of support, but we don’t have the money to do anymore than that,” he said. “I do think it has great potential for the city of Good Hope, and for the county as a whole. But no matter how much we’d like to give, we’re still limited on what we could do.”

Cullman Mayor Max Townson noted the state promised Topre the interchange would be built when the industry was recruited several years ago.

“You can imagine how that would help Topre and the Walmart Distribution Center. It would also help Good Hope,” Townson said. “From a traffic standpoint, the 222 interchange would take some pressure off the Good Hope exit from I-65.”

While the interchange has long been on the agenda of area officials, the opportunity to land the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame has brought a new sense of urgency to the project.

“The issue actually goes back to when Topre was recruited,” Townson said. “There’s potential for a lot of people in this, but we’re also looking now at a potentially large attraction for the area and the interchange could be an important part of that plan, as well.”

The city also has 65 acres of land on the Burrow property that is designated for industrial development, which makes the 22 interchange even more valuable for the future, Townson said. To that end, he said the project remains a top priority.

“The cost is looking higher than what was first anticipated, but we’re going to look at what options are available and see if there is any help available from the state,” Townson added.

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