Tennessee officials, 'friends' to meet on future of B.B. Comer Bridge

Tennessee officials, 'friends' to meet on future of B.B. Comer Bridge

July 29th, 2013 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

The 1931-era B.B. Comer Bridge over the Tennessee River in Jackson County, Ala., could become the target of preservation efforts. In February, a group dedicated to the study of historic bridges has dubbed the span to its' list of Top 10 savable bridges in the United States.

Photo by Ben Benton /Times Free Press.


A public meeting with Alabama Department of Transportation officials, Friends of the B.B. Comer Bridge and state Sen. Shadrack McGill is set for 5:30 p.m. CDT on Aug. 1 at Scottsboro City Hall. The limit to the number of people allowed in the meeting room is 100. If response exceeds capacity, the location could be changed.

The B.B. Comer Bridge over the Tennessee River at Scottsboro, Ala., is the focus of a meeting set Thursday between those who want to save the bridge, lawmakers and state Department of Transportation officials.

Lallie Dawson Leighton, one of 3,200 members of the Friends of the B.B. Comer Bridge, says the group wants the 1931-era truss-style bridge to be saved for use as a pedestrian walkway or for cyclists and other activities. But the time line is very short.

"The contract has already been let for demolition," Leighton said.

Bridge friends have seen it work elsewhere, she said, noting Chattanooga's Walnut Street Bridge as a "prime example" of the potential for the span near Scottsboro.

"But it's right in town and ours is not," she said of Chattanooga's pedestrian span.

"We've got a lot of information we need to collect," she said. "We're trying to be cautiously optimistic, but we're realistic about the fact that there's only so much we can do."

Officials say the new span will be complete sometime in 2015 and demolition of the old bridge will follow.

The effort to save the bridge built steam after it was named to 2013's Top Rated Unique Savable Structures, or TRUSS, winners, according to bridgehunter.com.

James Baughn, author of the TRUSS list and the website, says the old span on Alabama Highway 35 was among 15 memorial bridges built by the Alabama State Bridge Corp. starting in 1927. It currently carries eastbound traffic while westbound traffic uses the "new" span alongside completed in 1985.

Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said the old Benjamin Fitzpatrick Bridge in Montgomery is a good example of costs of maintaining an aging span. It costs roughly $100,000 a year to maintain and inspect and another $1 million every decade or so for major repainting and cyclical maintenance.

State officials sought interest in Jackson County and its city governments, but "there were no takers," because costs were too high, he said, noting there's no doubt about its sentimental value.

Officials said ALDOT Director John Cooper and state officials will attend to provide information about the bridge, details about potential preservation costs and answer questions.

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