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Study planned for possible Bethel Road interchange with interstate

By Bayne Hughes

For the Enquirer

An Interstate 65 interchange at Bethel Road could provide alternate routes from the interstate to Hartselle and Priceville while boosting economic growth, benefits that have local officials looking into whether such an interchange is feasible.

Director Dewayne Hellums told the Decatur-area Metropolitan Planning Organization last week that he’s adding a $180,000 feasibility study to the draft of the fiscal 2023 budget. Hartselle, Priceville and the Morgan County Commission would split a $20,000 match.

The MPO is a group of local municipalities that manages the federal and state transportation funds and planning for local road projects. Each year the group receives about $1.9 million from a federal transportation bill, Hellums said.

A small portion of this budget is then allocated for transportation improvement studies, he said. Most recently, a study was done on the intersections in Southeast Decatur and Priceville around Alabama 67 and Upper River Road.

Bethel Road is a 7.9-mile road that starts at Indian Hills Road, near the new Hartselle High School, goes over the interstate, crosses Alabama 67 and crosses Upper River Road in Priceville. It terminates to the north at Truck Trail, at an entrance to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

Hellums said the minimum distance between interstate interchanges varies according to Alabama Department of Transportation rules between 1 and 2 miles, depending on whether it’s urban or rural, but he thinks Bethel Road is far enough from the next closest interchanges.

Bethel Road is about 1.7 miles from the Alabama 36 interchange to the south (Exit 328) and 3.8 miles from the Alabama 67 interchange to the north in Priceville (Exit 334). The state rejected an attempt to build an interchange at Upper River Road because it would be too close to the Alabama 67 interchange.

Hartselle Mayor Randy Garrison said an interchange at Bethel Road could take pressure off Alabama 36.

“It could alleviate congestion on Highway 36 East, which is a two-lane bridge and road to downtown (Hartselle),” Garrison said.

Bethel Road crosses over the interstate in rural Morgan County at a spot that is undeveloped. Garrison and Priceville Mayor Sam Heflin said a Bethel Road interchange will benefit both their towns.

“An interchange tends to attract retail and other commercial development so Bethel Road would be the next logical place,” Heflin said. “I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime, but we’re willing to look at what could happen from a high-level view.”

Hellums said he doesn’t know if the lack of development in the area could impact the possibility of a Bethel Road interchange.

“That’s one of the things we’ll find out in a study,” Hellums said.

In other road news:

  • Decatur Councilman Carlton McMasters talked to Hellums and Heflin about the need to start the planning process for improvement to Deere Road, especially the intersection with Alabama 67.

Deere Road, which sits on the Decatur-Priceville line, has become an alternative access to Alabama 67 from Upper River Road, especially with the multiple residential developments in the area. Decatur has two subdivisions and a major apartment complex coming while Priceville is also seeing dramatic growth along Upper River Road.

The intersection study showed area drivers are using Deere Road to avoid using the Upper River Road-Alabama 67 intersection because of the angle in which those two roads meet. Decatur is doing the engineering in preparation for improving the Upper River-Alabama 67 intersection.

“We need to widen the north side of the (Deere/67) intersection so there’s at least two left turn lanes,” McMasters said.

Heflin said the Deere Road intersection is already an issue because 18-wheelers coming out of the Pilot Travel Center and onto Alabama 67 back up traffic.

McMasters said it’s important to start planning now because of how slowly government moves. He said he would like for Decatur, Priceville and the county to split the cost of the upgrades.

  • Upgrades to the railroad crossings have begun or are planned for McEntire Lane in Decatur and Tabernacle Road in Hartselle.

ALDOT spokesman Seth Burkett said Norfolk-Southern Railroad recently began adding the signs, markings and legends at McEntire, at an estimated cost of $3,283. The state and Morgan County are splitting the cost.

Burkett said CSX Railroad, with state approval, would add mounted signals, gates, bells, signs and legends at the Tabernacle Road crossing for $352,259. The state, Morgan County and Hartselle are splitting the cost.

  • Allen Teague, ALDOT pre-construction engineer, said they’re working on getting final approval of the intersection upgrades to Vaughn Bridge Road and U.S. 31 and he’s hoping work will begin as early as November.
  • Teague said Morgan County is in the process of acquiring rights of way for a culvert replacement over Baker’s Creek.
  • The state’s three resurfacing projects planned for this summer are Cave Springs, Skidmore and Bethel roads, Teague said.
  • Plans for the bridge replacement over the Norfolk-Southern railroad on U.S. 31 North (between the causeway and Calhoun Community College) are about 30% complete. This project will probably begin in the middle of fiscal 2023, Teague said.
  • Teague said they’re working on plans to repair Alabama 24 where portions of the eastbound lane fell into a sinkhole. He said he’s hoping they can get input from three or four contractors soon so the project can begin.

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