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Closure, bridge work continues on Highway 36

By Erica Smith

For the Enquirer

A portion of Alabama Highway 36 remains closed in Morgan County, but one bridge project on the road is nearly complete, and another one is underway, as nearby residents remain hopeful the work will reduce flooding.

The bridges in question on Highway 36 are near Black Road and Cut-off Road, south of Somerville. Work began Tuesday to replace the Gum Spring Creek bridge with a culvert. The replacement of a bridge 1,500-2,000 feet farther east, at Roan Branch, with a culvert lacks a few finishing details to be complete.

“It was needing replaced,” said Stephanie Harkey, who lives near the bridge at Roan Branch. “The last flood was pretty bad.”

She said in 2021 water rose above the bridge and flooded her neighbor’s yard significantly.

Harkey said flooding is even more common at Gum Spring Creek bridge, and it is in desperate need of replacing. Its spans aren’t large enough for adequate water flow.

“These culverts with these massive barrels on them should be able to accommodate much heavier flow in those creeks than what the previous structures were able to,” said Seth Burkett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Thomas Erb, who lives near the Gum Spring Creek bridge, said the water backs up constantly. “It’ll flood my whole bottom pasture.”

Erb said he believes the culvert should take care of the problem. “It’ll take on the volume of water instead of allowing the water to come over top of the road and then erode the road.”

Burkett said the new bridge at Roan Branch still has minor work items to be completed. “The bridge structure is complete, but they won’t have done all of the paving or striping that’s included in the project at this point.”

Burkett said striping is typically done at the end of the project so workers can stripe everything at once.

With work now starting on the Gum Spring Creek bridge, Burkett said “the only thing that really changed here is the access for the residents that live between those two bridges. Where they were going out on the west side, they’re now going in and out on the east side.”

“We have to maintain access for the people that live in there (in between the bridges), which is part of why the project is taking as much time as it is,” he said. “We have to do one bridge and then do the other one because we couldn’t work on them simultaneously.”

For all other drivers, Burkett said, a portion of the highway remains closed.

“The detour’s the same; the area that they aren’t supposed to drive into is the same – between Black Road and Cut-off Road,” Burkett said.

The official detour is Interstate 65 to Alabama Highway 67, Burkett said. “Of course, local drivers are going to have other ways to get around that might be more efficient for them. But any tractor trailers, commercial traffic, really needs to stick to that official detour.”

Erb said he is frustrated with drivers not heeding the closed road signs and trying to turn around on his dead-end street, Hobb Ward Road.

“Road closed means road closed,” he said. “This is a dead-end road right here, so everybody comes down through here, and there’s no place to turn around for them if they have a truck or a trailer or something like that. Makes it very difficult.”

Burkett said the bridges were so close together that they are being replaced as one project totaling $2.62 million. “We anticipate the whole project wrapping up sometime probably in late summer of this coming year. Maybe early fall.”