Alabama DOT Wants to Gouge a Highway Through This Historic Town Center

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North Eufaula Avenue, the heart of Eufaula, Alabama’s historic town center, is under threat by the Alabama DOT. Photo: Robin McDonald

The town of Eufaula, Alabama, population 13,000, is known for its historic buildings. Stately mansions, giant live oak heavy with Spanish moss — it’s exactly the type of place that comes to mind when you picture Southern small-town charm.

Every year the city hosts a home tour called the Eufaula pilgrimage, which culminates with the grand mansions on North Eufaula Avenue. That event and other cultural tourism brings millions of dollars to the local economy every year.

Which is why many residents were horrified when the Alabama Department of Transportation came to town in November and announced it would be widening North Eufaula Avenue, through the heart of the historic district. Widening the road from two lanes to four would cut into the roots of the stately oaks and make this historic small-town street feel like a high-speed freeway.

Doug Purcell, a long-time resident and board member of the Eufaula Heritage Association, has been leading the local campaign against the project. The state of Alabama has tried to widen the road three times in the 42 years he’s lived there, and he’s fought back every time.

“North Eufaula Avenue defines the special character of Eufaula,” he said. “It’s Eufaula’s front porch and one of its showcases.”

Purcell and other activists gathered 6,000 signatures opposing the widening.

Alabama construction crews began construction on North Eufaula Avenue, against locals' wishes, Tuesday. Photo: Zoe Powell
Crews began construction on North Eufaula Avenue, against locals’ wishes, last Tuesday. Photo: Zoe Powell

Alabama DOT has not budged, however. The agency wants to widen the road because U.S. Route 431 is a popular north-south route to Alabama and Florida’s beaches. The town sits about equidistant between Atlanta and Panama City Beach.

During summer holiday weekends and around spring break, traffic backs up and drivers may wait up to half an hour to pass through the two-lane, three-quarter-mile stretch in the town center. Throughout the rest of the year, locals say there are no traffic problems.

Residents like Purcell preferred a bypass the state had been considering but abruptly abandoned in favor of the road widening last year, citing cost concerns. Purcell says the widening isn’t likely to solve the traffic problem, even though it will do permanent damage to the character the town.

“The problem are the 13 traffic lights that motorists have to navigate getting through Eufaula,” he said.

Last month, Eufaula residents and the city enlisted the Southern Environmental Law Center and filed suit against the DOT, alleging the state was inappropriately skirting historic preservation and environmental rules. The state has maintained that because the $1.3-million project will be funded with only state dollars and not any federal money, it is not required to meet federal regulations. The suit contends the road project should be considered part of a wider package of projects that are receiving some federal support.

The opponents are seeking a temporary injunction to halt construction. Meanwhile, the state of Alabama began construction two weeks ago and has begun pruning back branches of the giant oaks.

“It’s hard to fight a state organization with millions and millions of dollars at their disposal,” said Purcell. “It’s just the wrong thing for this particular community.”

  • Jason Bennett

    What might be the most effective way to register complaints about this? Write/Call your legislator or the DOT itself?

  • Streetsblog Network

    Not 100% sure. Calling your legislator might not be a bad move.

  • c2check

    Google Street View shows a median-divided roadway, each direction being a single, enormously wide lane (maybe 20′) and no on-street parking apparent. Couldn’t they just stripe for 2 lanes if they really needed an extra lane? (relatively narrow lanes would keep traffic at a slow (read: reasonable) speed, although maybe that’s the DOT’s point…)

  • Alex

    But you need a clear zone and minimum 12 foot lanes so that the road is “safe”.

  • Ed Lincoln

    “…a wheel in the ditch, and a wheel on the track…” Oh, Alabama!

  • C Monroe

    Can they fight to get the road registered as a historical landmark? Also maybe get rid of a few traffic lights and/or put in round a bouts to improve traffic flow

  • Bruce

    To Jason st al. The best way to register a complaint is to boycott those interests who refuse to support a sensible truck route around the the town. The fast buck artists who not a whit about history or quality of life issues. It is time to boycott Eufaula until the trucks are gone. Stay tuned.

  • Bruce

    Best way to register complaint is to boycott those interests (the fast buck artists) who care not a whit about quality of life or history. Boycott Eufaula until a truck route is established.

  • ladyfleur

    It’s taken a lot of work over the years, but Baton Rouge residents successfully fought widening Highland Road, a 2-lane historic highway that’s routinely congested with commuters to LSU and has curves where drivers routinely end up in the ditch. It can be done. http://goo.gl/maps/aC7Ce

  • Joe Linton

    sickening

  • Don W

    THIS SUCKS. Please keep fighting.

  • So it appears as if the big/hidden story here is that Atlanta’s sprawl is ruining towns 150 miles away. Absurd.

  • Peggy Gargis

    Jason Bennett, the locals have written to ALDOT and even met with ALDOT Director AND the governor. AND their state senator. They gathered 6,000 petition signatures, and they have allies in other places. None of that moved Gov. Bentley or ALDOT from their dinosaur road planning and what I have to believe is the spiteful destruction of this historic and scenic treasure. BTW, the area does have National Historic Trust designation. But, because ALDOT is using only state funds, and not federal, they can skirt federal oversight.

  • Peggy Gargis

    Whoops. I didn’t see the direct Reply option, Jason Bennett. Please see my response to your question in newer (1-24-15) post.

  • Peggy Gargis

    The area does have National Historic Trust designation. That could provide some protection IF the state were using federal funds for the project. But ALDOT is using only our limited state dollars. That allows them to sidestep any federal oversight. ALDOT claims they can’t afford a bypass, even with federal matching $$. I could cite some cost savings in other areas where ALDOT, IMO, has wasted/is wasting ridiculous amounts of cash.

  • Orson Meyers

    And two decades ago, when the US 431 plans were being developed, Eufaula passed on having a bypass built around it. They were given the option then and they said NO. The alignment would have infringed on the grounds of the Eufaula Country Club. That upset the fancy pants along North Eufaula Avenue who are members there.

    Can’t have it both ways Peggy!

  • yugioh_mishima

    Unbelievable… I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at the depravity anymore…

  • tbatts666

    This is terrible.

    As a city resident of course I feel for how highways have divided urban communities. This isn’t supposed to happen to small towns.

    Resist!

  • lakefxdan

    Orson, it does not appear to be quite that simple. From what I can see the community has been working with ALDOT for many years on the presumption of a bypass, but cost considerations have nixed one for the time being, leading to this least-cost option. I know it’s fun to mock people you think are being legitimately bitten, but it just isn’t the fact that local opposition prevented a bypass.

  • Why is ALDOT building stuff for Atlanta when ALDOT dollars are limited as it is?

  • SAR Jim

    The widening is now about two years old and is the best thing that ever happned here in terms of transportation. The two lanes on each side only took about six feet from the median. All the trees are healthy and I can’t see any effect on the plantings in the median. The azaleas had more flowers than I’ve seen in a couple years. Traffic used to back up for miles, especially on holiday weekends. The road went from two lanes to one on each side and was a huge bottleneck. Now traffic moves fine, even on holidays.

    The police are out there almost daily with radar enforcing the 30 mph speed limit through the historic district. There are more people obeying the speed limit now than there were before the widening. I live in the historic district, and I was trapped on weekends. I had to cross Eufaula Ave to get anywhere, and that could take as long as 45 minutes. I didn’t even try to drive on Eufaula Ave because of the slow moving traffic, with trucks idling for a half hour until they could finally get back to four lanes. Almost every prediction about the widening in this article is wrong. A bypass would kill downtown and cause way more environmental damage that six feet worth of median. Some change is good, and the widening of Eufaula Ave is one of them.

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