Exploring Alabama - Behind the Scenes at DOT

When it comes to major roadway construction - some old and small things can bring gigantic road machinery to a halt.

For instance, there's the cockaded woodpecker...an endangered species that knocked a project in southwest Alabama off track for a while. And then there's another critter that can do the same...the gopher tortoise.

When the state was about to build a highway through gopher territory near Mobile the slow moving tortoises stopped the project until the state could buy 600 acres of property, safely round up the residents, tag them and move them into their new digs...literally.

D.O.T. Director Joe McInnis says some folks might think re-locating the gopher tortoises and protecting woodpeckers is a waste of taxpayers' money. But he's not one of them, now. "Now I see the larger picture...and it is a larger picture...as I mentioned a minute ago, one of these particular species is part of a larger population...if you eradicate one of them, it impacts another and impacts another and has a domino effect."

And when it comes to unearthing historical artifacts, the state treats them with dignity and respect. "Archeologists come in and evaluate the site," McInnis said, "We try and find the tribe they belong to and find out what they want to do with them."

McInnis says folks need to remember that for most roadway projects, building a road is the last thing his department does. So, the next time you see a D-O-T crew out on the side of the highway, you might be surprised to know that working behind the scenes are scientists, biologists and archaeologists – making sure the department does the right thing for the environment, the smallest of God's creatures, and the sacred memories of our past.

It may make you see things in a different light.