Bridge 'friends' pledge to continue effort to save B.B. Comer span

Bridge 'friends' pledge to continue effort to save B.B. Comer span

August 16th, 2013 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

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The 1931-era B.B. Comer Bridge over the Tennessee River in Jackson County, Ala., has become the focus of preservation efforts.

Photo by Ben Benton/Times Free Press.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

Friends of the B.B. Comer Bridge east of Scottsboro, Ala., say they'll continue efforts to preserve the 83-year-old, truss-style steel span over the Tennessee River despite what state officials say will be an "uphill battle."

"Finding funding will be our first task to make this quest a reality," bridge friend Charles Holderfield told officials at a meeting Aug. 1. The group issued a news release recently reviewing the meeting and plans to save the span.

Holderfield said the group is actively working to get 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status in order to take up fundraising efforts in earnest.

Bridge friend and group spokeswoman Lallie Dawson Leighton said the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga is an example of a successful preservation effort.

Leighton said the next two key steps are securing the nonprofit status and analyzing U.S. Coast Guard regulations that come into play if the bridge is to be saved.

After that, bridge supporters must devise a strategy for funding an estimated $3 million worth of painting needed over a five-year period, another $1 million in general repairs and about $100,000 a year for inspections, she said. Alabama Department of Transportation officials helped with maintenance and upkeep estimates they provided at the meeting.

"We're thinking for us to just get our feet on the ground to have funds to get started, we'd need about $5 million," Leighton said. Ultimately, group members would like to establish an endowment to keep up maintenance, she said.

Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said Jackson County officials shied away from the costly idea when the state gauged local government interest, though he said no one doubted the bridge's sentimental value.

The effort to save the bridge gained momentum earlier this year after the 1934-era span was named to 2013's Top Rated Unique Savable Structures, or TRUSS, winners, according to bridgehunter.com.

But now the clock is ticking, though demolition is still a couple of years off.

The obstacles will be difficult to overcome but not impossible, said bridge friend Caroline Lynch Minor, who called the span "a treasure in our own back yard."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.