Chuck Williams: Eufaula geared for highway fight over U.S. 431

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comApril 21, 2014 

Shorter Mansion in Eufaula, Ala.

If you want to see one hell of a fight, turn your attention 40 miles south of Columbus.

The state of Alabama has thrown the first punch against the city of Eufaula.

And it was a sucker punch to the heart for some in this proud city.

The Alabama Department of Transportation began a survey last week that is the first step in widening North Eufaula Avenue — better known as U.S. 431. Residents saw the DOT’s handiwork when markers went up in the tree-lined median last week.

Folks in Eufaula responded the way everyone does these days — they started a Facebook page, “Save North Eufaula Ave.”

“‘Help save us from ALDOT,’ cry the innocent trees along North Eufaula Avenue on this rainy Good Friday,” wrote Jean Thomas on that Facebook page. “The raindrops are their tears, and the winds are their moans.”

Can you tell Mrs. Thomas was my high school English teacher?

As you can tell by her words, this is a highly charged, emotional issue.

Some of the state’s most beautiful and historic homes are on that scenic mile rolling into town. It is a neighborhood in every sense. It’s homes and churches, with one 1960s-era apartment complex. The median is broad and beautiful, with old oak trees that shade the route.

The state wants to make that median less broad — and some fear less beautiful.

North Eufaula Avenue is a street worthy of Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., or Mobile, Ala. It has the antebellum mansions, one after another. In that line of homes is Shorter Mansion, the most majestic of the old houses.

To know what North Eufaula would look like with four lanes, all you have to do is look at Quintard Avenue through downtown Anniston, Ala.

And, if you are attached to old Eufaula, that isn’t good enough. While Quintard is functional, it has lost much of its charm.

The people in Eufaula will be ready for this fight, because it has been coming for three decades or more.

U.S. 431 is the major north-south highway that carries those from parts north — mainly metro Atlanta — to the Florida coast. As you cross Lake Eufaula on the way into downtown, North Eufaula Avenue bottlenecks going into the central business district. When the traffic is thick, it can back up miles in both directions. What do you do?

You are’nt likely to build a bypass because of the cost and the lake. So, do you carve a few feet off the median and risk destroying one of the state’s most beautiful urban forests?

The Alabama DOT better be ready for a fight. This will play its way all the way to Washington because it’s a U.S. highway.

I dare say some people in Eufaula will be motivated enough to stand in front of heavy equipment if push comes to shove.

To me, there is only one way to look at this: Preservation battles are only worthy if you have something worth preserving.

I promise you that many of the people in my hometown feel that avenue is worth preserving.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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