EUFAULA, AL (WSFA) - It's making headlines as the battle of southern charm versus traffic woes. The Alabama Department of Transportation laid out its plans Monday night to widen the iconic stretch of North Eufaula Avenue to four lanes.
The DOT says the project is designed to cut down on a traffic bottleneck in that area of US 431, but residents turned out in force at a public information session to oppose it.
"The project would have serious consequences to our community, to tourism, to the safety of the neighborhoods, to property values. You take away that historic district. It was used in the movie sweet home Alabama. It is a draw for people to come and visit but it is also a draw for people to come and live here and it's also been a positive aspect when we're recruiting industry and jobs," said Bob Powers, President of the Eufaula City Council.
The DOT says on average, more than 22,000 people travel on North Eufaula Avenue each day and that when consultants evaluated the 0.7 section through the historic part of town, the problems with delays were caused by the two lanes and not by traffic signals which has been the topic of debate.
Through the years, the DOT has looked at alternatives to fix the traffic problem, including building a seven mile long bypass west of town. The current price tag on that project would be $120 million, officials said. To widen the section of North Eufaula Avenue would cost $1 million.
"We're doing our best to do what we believe is the right thing. We're trying to do that while being as understanding as we can and as we are able to be of the feelings of people who are impacted by the project in one way or another," said John Cooper, Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation. "We have a problem. Traffic is backing up for miles on weekends, during the summer and during holidays. It's an intolerable situation. It's an unsafe situation. It's one that we can fix and we need to do it."
The DOT says they've compromised to help preserve as much of the aesthetic as possible along North Eufaula Avenue, widening the road to four lanes by taking three feet from each side and cutting into the median. Officials believe that will have a minimal impact on the trees in the median and will double the traffic flow through that section.
Cooper says the DOT is aware of opposition to the project in the community, but also cited a survey the DOT had done which polled 300 citizens and asked the question: "Do you believe that North Eufaula Avenue should be widened?" He says 74% said "yes."
"We're doing something very necessary and important for the traveling public and for the people who live in Eufaula, for their quality of life," Cooper added.
Eufaula is still fighting the project. The city council has authorized the city attorney to take any legal action necessary to stop it.
"The city probably won't get involved with a full blown lawsuit with the state or ALDOT," said Mayor Jack Tibbs. "But I'm hoping we can buy some time to look at some alternative solutions to the problem or the perceived problem and not destroy our scenic byway which we feel is a calling card to our city."
The DOT will open bids for the project on December 5, and hopes it will be finished in early April 2015.
Community leaders in Eufaula have met with Governor Robert Bentley several times to voice their concerns about the project. Powers said Tuesday night that they would once again be reaching out to him after the DOT's information session.