Please help save our Historic District and oppose the four lane planned for Eufaula Avenue.
This strip of our small town is a sight of beauty. You may remember it from the 2002 blockbuster hit, "Sweet Home Alabama" starring Reese Witherspoon. Melanie Carmichael made her infamous return to Alabama driving down our breathtaking North Eufaula Avenue. Unfortunately, this iconic stretch of roadway is being threatened!
This past Wednesday a survey crew from the Alabama Department of Transportation showed up on North Eufaula Avenue in Eufaula and began staking out the parkways as part of a plan to four lane this historic and scenic street. This caught everyone by surprise as the Eufaula-Barbour County Chamber of Commerce and the City of Eufaula have passed resolutions opposing this work about two months previous. Copies of these resolutions are attached for your review.
The stakes indicate that ALDOT intends to trim off approximately six feet of parkway on each side of the roadway reducing the parkways to mere ribbons and killing many of the stately live oaks and other plantings on this street. The harm to Eufaula’s heritage tourism industry would be irrevocable. Next year the Eufaula Heritage Association will host its 50th Eufaula Pilgrimage. North Eufaula Avenue is the signature street within the Seth Lore and Irwinton Historic District and one of the most beautiful highways in the State of Alabama.
ALDOT director John Cooper released the following statement on Wednesday afternoon:
“It is true that we are “staking” the median on US 431 in Eufaula. However, to say we have a plan would overstate the situation. We are looking at what would be required to put four lanes of traffic through the area. The reason for that is that significant traffic backup occurs here and we have been told that it is causing traffic that had been coming through Eufaula to take a different route on a new road in Georgia. This may be costing Eufaula the very tourist business they seek to protect, at least in some folks view. In any case, everyone should understand that we are only trying to determine what would be required. If we can do that, we might be able to have a rational conversation about alternatives. Until that is accomplished, we cannot know what should or should not be done.”
No one in Eufaula has any idea what Cooper is referencing when he says traffic backup in Eufaula is causing some travelers to reroute through Georgia to avoid the alleged traffic congestion here. The only possible route would be US 27 in Georgia which would then connect with GA 62 before it ties in with AL 52 in Columbia. AL 52 then runs into the Ross Clark Circle in Dothan where travelers can then pick up US 231 before heading south to Panama City or other beach communities. Diverted traffic is miniscule along this route and does not dent Eufaula’s heritage tourism industry.
And Cooper is being less than candid when he says that “to say we have a plan would overstate the situation.” The attached ALDOT Rural Planning 2014-2019 document clearly shows that this North Eufaula Avenue four-lane project is already in their budget. Preliminary engineering and utilities are scheduled for this year and construction is slated for 2015. Total cost of the project is estimated to be $1,190,000.00 and all will be in state dollars—no Federal funds to be used.
Last week a professional photographer was in town to photograph the North Eufaula Avenue streetscape at the request of the Alabama Tourism Department. The ATD will select one of the images to use on a poster to promote what they consider one of Alabama’s signature streets. This coming week, in Muscle Shoals, the Alabama Preservation Conference (sponsored by the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation) will be held and North Eufaula Avenue will be designated as one of Alabama’s 2014 Places in Peril. This designation is the result of pressure being exerted by ALDOT on North Eufaula Avenue over the last 35 years. This is at least the third major attempt by ALDOT to four-lane North Eufaula Avenue during this time span. Below is a statement that I prepared for the nomination of North Eufaula Avenue as a 2014 Place in Peril:
“North Eufaula Avenue is one of Alabama’s signature streets that runs through the center of Eufaula’s Seth Lore & Irwinton National Register Historic District. The street is known for its array of antebellum and postbellum residences as well as a tree shaded canopy that is spectacular to behold. Interspersed among the trees are flowering shrubs and plants which add an enchanting atmosphere to the three-quarter mile roadway. Dogwood trees also delight visitors during the spring as they come into full bloom just in time for the Eufaula Pilgrimage which is the oldest historic home tour in the State of Alabama.
Homeowners who live on this beautiful street have to contend with approximately 25,000 vehicles daily because it is, as U. S. Highway 431, a major transportation route between Atlanta, Georgia and Panama City, Florida. U. S. Highway 431 is four-laned from the north and south until it narrows to a two-line road through a portion of the historic district. During high traffic periods, connected with the Eufaula Pilgrimage or national holidays like the Fourth of July, the street can be extremely congested with traffic backed up one or two miles. The City of Eufaula usually deploys its police force to help increase traffic flow and to minimize the frustration of drivers who have to contend with this congestion. These traffic issues only occur a few times a year. However, over the last thirty plus years the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has proposed four-laning this last section of U. S. Highway 431 (North Eufaula Avenue) at least three times so that a four-lane route will exist all the way from Phenix City to Dothan. Also of concern, to home owners on North Eufaula Avenue and elsewhere, is the future of these architectural gems if the roadway is ultimately four-laned. These historic homes will be less desirable as residences and will fall into disrepair over time—never to be enjoyed and appreciated again by history minded residents and visitors.
Most recently (late 2013), ALDOT proposed four-laning North Eufaula Avenue since, as they advised the Mayor and City Council, a proposed four-lane north/south alternate route to the west was no longer on the table. As a result of this discussion with ALDOT, the City of Eufaula and the Eufaula-Barbour County Chamber of Commerce passed separate resolutions opposing the four-lane project. These resolutions were supported by the Eufaula Heritage Association and the Eufaula-Randolph Neighborhood Association. Also lending support were the Alabama Tourism Department, Alabama Historical Commission, Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Chattahoochee Commission.
North Eufaula Avenue will remain threatened until the alternate route is placed back in the ALDOT’s five year plan and funding is found to move forward with this project. In the meantime, Eufaula must remain ever vigilant as this issue could resurface again because of continuing traffic congestion issues and the fact that this section of U. S. Highway 431 lies along an important hurricane evacuation route.”
Since this statement was prepared, this four-lane issue has resurfaced with a vengeance. The insensitive position of ALDOT is alarming. We are doing all we can to dissuade John Cooper from moving forward with this project but it appears his mind is already made up.
Please sign this petition to help us preserve the destruction of Eufaula Avenue by the ALDOT. You can also help further by contacting the Governor of Alabama (334-242-7100) or Representative Martha Roby and let them know you are opposed to this. For further information on this issue, join our group "Save North Eufaula Avenue" on Facebook.
(Special thanks to Ashley Martin and Doug Purcell for helping me organize and write this!)