BUILD grant

Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker, left, greets Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs at a press conference Friday to announce a $14.2 million federal grant to complete the widening of Alabama 157.

Cullman’s bridges to nowhere along Alabama 157 are gaining a purpose after years of idly sitting by the wayside.

A $14.2 million federal grant ensures a 3.5-mile stretch of Alabama 157 will be four-laned, with work anticipated to begin 2020.

A group of local elected officials gathered at Cullman City Hall for the announcement Friday morning as Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs made the announcement, thanking a wide range of players in securing the grant, including U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones and U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt.

“It’s big, it’s really big,” Jacobs said. “We all know how congested it gets in that area leading to the hospital. That’s a big factor in this grant, plus there was support from the Cullman County Commission, mayors throughout the area, including the City of Arab. This grant is for everyone.”

The estimated cost of the project is $28 million. Jacobs said if the two bridges were not already in place, the grant wouldn’t have been possible.

“Our understanding is this had to be a project that is pretty well ready to start,” Jacobs said. “In 2019, there will be additional engineering work and land acquisitions, but a lot has already been done. All of the money has to be spent by 2025, so the timeline is important in getting this completed.”

State Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, also thanked fellow lawmakers in the local delegation, noting that Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview, has worked closely with Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper to win support at the state level.

“This is huge for the hospital, our industries and all of our communities,” Gudger said. “I want to stress how amazing it is to have this group together today, working so closely together without an agenda so that our entire area will benefit. This is why the people of this district are unique. We choose a task, no matter how daunting it may seem, and we purse that effort.”

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, which focuses on economic development and infrastructure upgrades.

According to Cullman officials, traffic on Highway 157 has increased to more than 15,000 vehicles per day, creating hazardous driving conditions and lengthy delays for numerous businesses and individuals. 

 “This BUILD grant awarded to the city of Cullman will allow for critical highway infrastructure improvements in the region,” Shelby said. “As Cullman continues to experience significant commercial, industrial, and residential growth, it is important that we find ways to support this rapid development. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and DOT in paving the way for economic success by rebuilding our local infrastructure.” 

While the widening of Highway 157 will improve traffic and safety conditions, the door will also be opened to other development along the corridor to boost the economy.

Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Dale Greer said residents will see a lot of benefits from the work in the future.

“Yes, some of those benefits are down the road, but we will see that in time,” he said.

Aderholt noted that highway funding is the key to both economic development and quality of life in communities.

“Working with the City of Cullman, Cullman County and knowing this has been one of their top issues, we are happy that the federal government could provide this funding to help complete the four-laning of Highway 157,” Aderholt said.

The bridges along Highway 157 were built several years ago in anticipation of widening the road, but funding for the project at the state level came to a halt during former Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration. 

The arrival of grant, however, ensure the project can move forward, Jacobs said.

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David Palmer has decades of experience in the newspaper industry. He currently serves as editor of The Cullman Times.