222 interchange groundbreaking

Gov. Robert Bentley and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey speak after ceremonially tilling dirt at the future site of the County Road 222 interchange. Ivey is a committee member on Bentley’s Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, which secured 80 percent of the funding needed for the new Interstate 65 interchange.

GOOD HOPE — After more than 10 years in the making, the interchange project on County Road 222 near Good Hope has finally broken ground.

Gov. Robert Bentley, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama) and state Sen. Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) — along with a slew of other Cullman County dignitaries — attended a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday afternoon to commemorate the beginning of one of the county’s most anticipated developments.

The new interchange, which began as a part of the industrial development of County Road 222, has had a long path to fruition.

It began when the Cullman Economic Development Agency (CEDA) courted Topre American Corporation to come to Cullman County.

“The deal was that the interchange would come along if industry located here,” Assistant Director of CEDA Dale Greer said. “Topre and other development brought in jobs to the area, but our part of the deal — the interchange — never got quite held up.”

Now that part of the deal is becoming a reality thanks to the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) sponsored by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).

“I don’t know if I have ever seen officials and the community come together like this before,” Greer said.

The final, and ultimately successful, push for the project was based on the tentative plans to bring the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame to County Road 222.

“When I was elected to office, I asked myself ‘how are we going to repair the roads in this state,’” Bentley said. “I set up a program — ATRIP — and said ‘I want to take politics out of it.’”

The governor was able to set it up without the approval of the legislature, and he created a committee to oversee its operations.

Bussman is a part of that committee.

“There’s dirt moving all over the state because of this program,” Bussman said. “There’s unity in counties that wouldn’t have been possible before.”

The local state senator thanked Ivey, Aderholt and the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce for their help in making the project possible, especially Aderholt’s efforts to obtain federal money.

“It’s going to have a huge future impact,” Bussman said. “Tourism traffic, travel traffic and local traffic are all going to be passing through here. I don’t see a limit to the opportunities here.”

The lieutenant governor, a member of the ATRIP committee, praised Cullman County on its economic prowess.

“The ATRIP program is unprecedented,” she said. “There’s never been a program like this. Because Cullman County handles it’s day-to-day business so well, it could match the ATRIP funds and make this happen. Progress is always on the way here.”

As a part of the $10 million ATRIP project, Cullman County matched 20 percent of the total cost of the project — $2 million. The primary source of ATRIP’s funding are GARVEE bonds, and the local funding was put forward by The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Cullman, the City of Good Hope and the Cullman County Commission.

The chamber is contributing a portion of lodging taxes upward of $1 million, which should amount to more than half the total local cost.

The Good Hope-Cullman area, an already quickly developing region, will receive the most direct benefit from the new interchange.

Leah Bolin, the president of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, emceed the event.

“This gives people access to beautiful Smith Lake in Cullman County,” she said. “It is a gateway to tourism in Cullman and the county.”

Former Good Hope mayor Corey Harbison, now state representative-elect, and newly designated mayor Jerry Bartlett both said that the interchange meant tremendous opportunity for the city.

“This is something we’ve been waiting on a long time,” Bartlett said. “It’s an outstanding benefit to Cullman County, especially Good Hope.”

Local road construction company Carcel & G. is the contractor for the project.

“We’re looking at an early fall of 2015 finish date,” engineer for ALDOT’s first division Johnny Harris said. “Depending on the winter weather, we should be prepared to begin base and pavement by spring.”

The trip to Cullman was the governor’s second in a little more than a month. Bentley was last here for an industrial announcement for Cash Acme.

“Cullman is a very desirable place,” he said. “Industry should want to locate here. The interchange is going to open up economic development in this area, and I am very excited that we were able to get ATRIP money.”

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