A project that seemed fatally stalled three years ago has a new life in front of Ward 5 council member Jennifer Andress, who is pushing to see a new connector across U.S. 280 that will link Homewood to Mountain Brook Village for pedestrians and solve growing traffic concerns at the same time.
Regional Planning Commission Mike “Kaz” Kaczorowski detailed the benefits of a $60,000 engineering and feasibility “preview” of the project under its APPLE (Advanced Planning, Programming and Logical Engineering) program, which shares local and federal funds at a 20/80 percent split. Mountain Brook would contribute half the $12,000 local match.
Mr. Kaczorowski said the project would combine engineering work and a feasibility study, with the goal of uncovering any obstacles and considering alternatives and cost before making a final recommendation. The cities would use that information to decide whether to pursue a full-blown federal transportation project. To get underway, RPC would invite prequalified firms to submit a one-page proposal from which the city would choose the consultant. Work could commence fairly soon, with a final report presented by next summer. ALDOT would receive the report but not participate in the consulting work. The committee voted in favor of pursuing the APPLE project for its $6,000 share (to be paid out as $12,000 and reimbursed by Mountain Brook for its half).
Ms. Andress said Mountain Brook was a willing partner for the project revival, describing two positive earlier meetings with Mountain Brook city manager Sam Gaston, two members of the Mountain Brook council, former councilman Fred Hawkins, state Rep. David Faulkner. State Rep. Paul DeMarco was on hand tonight but didn’t speak.
She said the project two years ago was led by concern for pedestrian safety, but now the bridge must be improved to resolve growing traffic flow, particularly from Mountain Brook’s Grand Bohemian and its other Village developments.
Interest in the $1 million pedestrian bridge idea grew in 2012 but in September 2013 drew pointed criticism from a cemetery preservation group worried about connecting a sidewalk to the bridge that would cross “unmarked graves” outside the iron fence of the Union Cemetery. Ward 5 councilman Peter Wright at the time assured them that no sidewalk would be built alongside the cemetery. Ms. Andress, however, said her constituents were overwhelminglyin support of the bridge project. Pedestrians already use the roadside by the Union Cemetery, she said. Persuading critics is something she said “I’ll take on personally.”
All five members of the Special Issues Committee voted in favor (Smith, chair, Andress, Gwaltney, Higginbotham, and McClusky). The agenda item goes to the council’s Finance Committee next.