The river runs through it – the “it” being the undeveloped areas adjacent to the Little Cahaba River. But will a new road also run through this pristine watershed that protects the quality of a major source of drinking water for most residents of Jefferson and Shelby counties?
The Alabama Department of Transportation is taking written comments from the public until Nov. 1 on whether to widen and extend Cahaba Beach Road from near U.S. 280 across a new bridge and connect it to Sicard Hollow Road. Comments should be sent to DeJarvis Leonard, PE, Regional Engineer, ALDOT, PO Box 2745, Birmingham AL 35202-2745 Attn: Sandra F.P. Bonner.
ALDOT regional engineer DeJarvis Leonard said the cut-through project would take many years to complete but would improve “connectivity between roadways on either side of the Little Cahaba River, improve mobility and reduce travel times” in the area. It would provide easier access to and from U.S. 280 for the new residential and commercial phase of Liberty Park, among other areas.
Environmentalists’ concerns include potential degradation of drinking water, traffic and light pollution, and potential commercial development from the project. They also point out the river is a prime recreation area for canoeing, kayaking and hiking.
Cahaba River Society executive director Beth Stewart said, “The Little Cahaba is one of the last healthy headwater streams of the Cahaba River. Its forested lands help protect the water as it comes from the Lake Purdy reservoir and into the intake pipes of the (Birmingham Water Works Board’s) water treatment plant.”
Stewart said people should know that money from Water Works customers bought much of the land along the river banks as a way to protect the water quality. If the river water becomes more polluted due to road construction and traffic runoff, the cost of treating it increases as well, she said. The water works intake pipe is almost 3.5 miles from Lake Purdy and is downstream from all of the proposed roads.
At a public involvement meeting Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Transportation proposed five potential outcomes for the project – four different routes and a no-build alternative.
Environmental groups such as the Cahaba River Society have endorsed the no-build option and are asking for an in-depth environmental impact study to supplement ALDOT’s initial environmental assessment. Some individual property owners along the river also are opposed to extending the road, and conservation trusts on some privately held property may complicate obtaining necessary rights-of-way.
Leonard said the comments sent to ALDOT will lead to detailed studies of direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of alternative routes.
“We’re early in the process of looking at this, so comments gathered from the public will help in guiding us through the next steps,” he said.
Cahaba Beach Road begins on its southern end at the intersection of Valleydale Road and U.S. 280 and goes northward, narrowing to a partly dirt surface as it approaches an ancient, one-lane steel bridge that was closed in the early 1990s. Now highway engineers are hoping to reconnect Cahaba Beach Road to Sicard Hollow Road via a new bridge.
ALDOT held an initial public involvement meeting a year ago and presented many more additional routes, now winnowed down to four. The agency also has met twice with stakeholders in informal meetings.
Stewart said stakeholder meetings have been helpful to lay out concerns, but her group wants to make sure that a detailed environmental impact statement process evaluates the indirect and cumulative environmental and traffic impacts so full information is available to ALDOT before decisions are made.
The lengths of the road and bridge of each proposed route are listed as:
Alternative 2A (western-most route): roadway 9,190 feet; bridge 290 feet
Alternative 4 (central route): roadway 8,445 feet; bridge 310 feet
Alternative 5 (eastern route): roadway 9,875 feet; bridge 869 feet
Alternative 5B (also an eastern route): roadway 11,105 feet; bridge 510 feet.