Residents expressed concern about the condition of the 79-year-old Fitzpatrick Bridge spanning the Tallapoosa River in Tallassee at a May 21 meeting with state officials, one of whom said the span is safe.
Alabama Department of Transportation Southeast Region pre-construction engineer Joshua Kervin told residents a new bridge is not included in ALDOT’s projected five-year plan and is safe.
While the bridge has no weight restriction — 18-wheelers frequently utilize it — Kervin said he favors a weigh station for the bridge. ALDOT weight crews weigh trucks using both permanent and portable weigh stations.
"I was all for a weight crew," Kervin said, “because it saves the roads, it saves the bridges, it saves everything."
ALDOT is updating the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) and concerned citizens voiced their concern for the safety of the aging bridge during the meeting at Tallassee City Hall.
Jeff Parker, owner and operator of Parker Wholesale Cars in East Tallassee, said if the bridge becomes inaccessible, he "might as well pack up and leave town," because his business would not survive without a bridge to connect both sides of the city.
Parker also explained the sentimental hold the historic bridge has for many Tallassee residents.
"This bridge is part of our family and we are trying to save her, and I think, collectively, that is our biggest concern," Parker said.
At the meeting, Mayor Johnny Hammock addressed not only the condition of the bridge but a traffic light at city hall and the addition of lanes on Alabama Highway 229 from Tallassee to the interstate.
The Fitzpatrick Bridge is 1,737 feet long and serves as a symbol of the textile mill era as well as the main artery through the city.
According to the website bridgehunter.com, the bridge has been in poor condition since 1999, with the last "fair" condition reported in 1997. The website said the bridge averaged 12,810 vehicles daily as of 2013.
Construction of a bridge that would reroute traffic from the Fitzpatrick Bridge has been talked about for decades. At one time a new bridge was in ALDOT's five-year plan.
"A new bridge across the Tallapoosa River at Tallassee has been talked about for a long time but now two river bridges have been authorized for planning and engineering by the Alabama Department of Transportation,” The Tribune reported Nov. 11, 1999.
Jan. 4, 2001, The Tribune reported ALDOT survey crews had started the process of planning for two new bridges over the Tallapoosa River. The story was complete with a photo of the survey crew on the east entrance to the bridge.
STIP is a federally mandated four-year funding and scheduling document for surface transportation projects for road, highway, pedestrian trails, bicycle facilities, bridge facilities and transit projects in Alabama. Federal and state money cannot be spent on projects unless they are listed in the STIP.
ALDOT develops STIP in accordance with the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
While replacement of the Fitzpatrick Bridge is not in ALDOT’s five-year plan, that could change if ALDOT receives enough comment cards from concerned citizens.
Residents can fill out a comment card and submit it by June 21 by going to https://cpmsapps.dot.state.al.us/OfficeEngineer/Plan/Statewide or by picking up a comment card at The Tribune office located at 301 Gilmer Ave.