‘This is a blessing’: State of Alabama takes possession of Smith Lake’s Duncan Bridge

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(Left to right) Winston County Commissioner Bobby Everett; Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman; Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper; Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley; Winston County Commission Chairman Roger Hayes; Winston County Commissioner David Cummings; and Winston County Engineer James Glasgow pose in front of Smith Lake’s Duncan Bridge Monday morning. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

ARLEY, Ala. – State legislators and Winston County officials on Monday gathered next to Duncan Bridge in Arley, where Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper joined Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman and Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley to announce that the State of Alabama has taken possession of the bridge, located on Highway 41 on Lewis Smith Lake.

According to the agreement between the State of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and Winston County, the State of Alabama will immediately take over the cost to maintain the bridge and the rights of way.

All of the members of the legislative delegation said they were thrilled the County would no longer incur the steep cost of maintaining the aging bridge, which serves as a vital point of access to all of the economic and recreational opportunities of Smith Lake.

Said Gudger, “As Smith Lake is a major travel destination for those of us in Cullman, I am thrilled that the State of Alabama is going to take over Duncan Bridge and remove the financial burden of maintenance for the benefit of our area. Over the years, Winston County has spent millions in inspections and repairs and was looking at spending even more to rebuild it which would be a huge burden on the county. I would like to thank ALDOT for assuming reasonability for these projects.

“The Winston County Commission has been asking for the takeover of this bridge because their budget needed to be spent on services for their constituents, everything from sanitation to the sheriff’s department,” said Gudger. “This is such a major (sic) expense just to maintain this bridge and be able to paint it and not let any of the paint flakes go into the water, because they want to be the best conservationists they can. This particular bridge connects these land masses that we’re able to have travel for businesses, for recreational use, for industrial use. It is such an iconic bridge on Smith Lake that is not just for Winston County; this bridge is a symbol for all of Smith Lake and every county that is contiguous, that touches Smith Lake, and for the Southeastern region for people that have property here and everyone who travels across to see their families or just go to the lake.”

He continued, “The only reason this happened is because the Rebuild Alabama Act, which is the gas tax, the State had extra money and the main request from the Winston County Commission was, ‘You have to take over this bridge or you’re going to bust our budget, and we can’t provide services to the people that we represent.’ And so, with the help of Senator Reed, myself and (Rep.) Tim Wadsworth and the other House members, we are able to go together talk to ALDOT Director John Cooper and the governor. They allowed us to make this public and the bridge- reverse that back to the State. Without that and the next few years when we have to do more maintenance on this bridge, the taxpayers in this area would be paying for it and they’re not able to afford it, and so this is one of the reasons and one of the great things that happened from the gas tax is the fact of we are bringing that money back locally to the communities.”

Winston County Commissioner David Cummings expressed his gratitude for everyone who made the possession transfer possible.

“The Commission would like to thank our county engineers, all the state legislators, the governor, John Cooper, James Brown and all of ALDOT for their huge help in making this accomplishment complete,” he said. “Without everybody working together, it wouldn’t have happened. This is a blessing for Winston County.”

Reed shared, “This is a great deal for our region and one which will benefit everybody who lives in Walker, Winston and Cullman counties. Everybody in the region uses this bridge so it is for the best that the state maintains the vital bridge. This agreement will ensure that the bridge is well-maintained and eventually upgraded. All told, this agreement will end up saving millions of dollars in the long term because of this transfer to the State of Alabama and the Department of Transportation. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in helping this plan become a reality.”

He continued, “I think that the State was looking for opportunities to help this region, at the request of Senator Gudger and myself. We have been supportive in the Rebuild Alabama Act, recognizing that having resources spent in this region of the state was going to be very important to our constituents and I think the governor and highway director of ALDOT were looking for opportunities to make a statement based on our request as to how they could do things that would be beneficial to people in these communities. I also think that the State was looking to select a way that their expertise would be the most valuable to communities and all of the requirements associated with this bridge, the technological detail of testing it and repairing it and painting it, all those kinds of things. Those are levels of expertise that the State has more of than any entity in Alabama so they could apply their skill sets, their employees, their equipment, those things in a way that would be most beneficial to Smith Lake and to these three-county area by looking at how they can be involved and engaged with this bridge.”

Reed said Duncan Bridge is iconic.

“If you look at multiple magazines, whether it’s real estate, regional or magazines that talk about economic growth and development, many times they use Duncan Bridge, a photograph of the bridge, as kind of a symbol for Smith Lake, especially in this particular area,” he said, “so I think (sic) many people can recognize (sic) the benefit of the bridge being well-maintained. (It) is not only important (for) recreation and economic benefits, but I think there is a certain amount of history associated with a 50-plus-year-old bridge. There are very few like it, even in the Southeastern United States. (It’s) an iconic example of beautiful architecture that’s right here in our community. The citizens are going to be pleased to know that something that’s been around, for many of them their whole lives, is going to be protected.”

Gudger added, “Senator Reed’s home base is in Walker County, in Jasper, mine’s in Cullman County. We both represent Winston County, but we feel like this is our home, too, and we both want to represent and do the best we can for Winston County anytime that the commission or locals would like us to do anything. Our goal is to make sure we represent everyone, and I feel like that’s a big one that we did today is being able to represent them on this bridge.”

Wadsworth said he was pleased that after many years, this issue is finally resolved.

“As a young child growing up in Winston County, Duncan Bridge did not exist. Vehicles traveled to Jasper by means of a single cable ferry,” he said. “Then Lewis Smith Lake was formed and Duncan Bridge was built 60 years ago. Now as a resident of Arley and State Representative of the 14th District which includes Duncan Bridge, it is with great pride that we announce the acceptance by the State of Alabama of Duncan Bridge and part of Hwy. 41 for maintenance from this time forward. This accomplishment will have long lasting tax savings for Winston County residents.”

Wadsworth added, “Duncan Bridge was built 60 years ago when beautiful Lewis Smith Lake was formed. Winston County has maintained this beautiful landmark bridge for 50 years. Winston County incurs nearly $50,000 to $80,000 inspection costs. When Duncan Bridge is painted, Winston County spends $1 million of local money. When Duncan Bridge must be replaced, Winston County would have spent $25 million to $30 million that it does not have. Now this financial burden is off the backs of Winston County taxpayers. The State of Alabama has assumed the responsibility of the cost of maintenance and ultimate replacement of Duncan Bridge and maintenance of part of State Hwy. 41.

“We, as your elected officials, have worked to make this happen. I thank Governor Kay Ivey, ALDOT Highway Director John Cooper Senator Reed, state representatives and members of the (Winston) County Commission for working together. We will enjoy the fruits of this bridge and easement transfer, and our Winston County’s grandchildren will enjoy the same benefits and reduced burden this in the future. I thank all involved.”

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Winston County Commissioner Bobby Everett (middle) is seen talking with Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper (left) and Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman Monday morning. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)
Duncan Bridge seen Monday, June 15, 2020. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)
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Maggie Darnell

maggie@cullmantribune.com