Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Alabama DOT, historic Eufaula ready for meeting

In this corner is the undisputed champ in these parts, historic Eufaula, Ala., weighing in with nearly 200 years of rich Southern history.

The challenger -- hailing from Montgomery, Ala., with the motto: “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” -- is the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Somebody is going to leave this one bloody, battered and beaten.

Tuesday night, ADOT will hold a public hearing at the Eufaula Community Center. And the topic is a touchy one in this East Alabama city 40 minutes south of Columbus.

Long story short, the engineers in Montgomery see seven-tenths of a mile of historic North Eufaula Avenue -- also known as U.S. 431 -- as the last obstacle to a non-stop four-lane highway from Opelika to the Florida line below Dothan.

Many of the people in Eufaula, from historical preservationists to residents along the road living in homes built in the 1800s, see it differently. Their town, their way of life and their history have been threatened.

ADOT sees a traffic problem, one solved with more blacktop.

“That is the only bottleneck along the route that remains,” ADOT spokesman Tony Harris told the Ledger-Enquirer. “It is a route that carries almost 23,000 cars daily. That two-lane stretch is just over a half-mile long but it’s the highest of any stretch in Alabama.”

To four-lane it, ADOT is proposing trimming 3 feet off each side of the tree-lined median. That will kill the magnificant oaks, the opponents claim.

Eufaula folks see history. And that proposed four-lane strikes at the very core of that history. Ask Doug Purcell, retired executive director of the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and Eufaula resident.

“It is something that will have a major impact on the economic life of Eufaula and it may possibly kill the homes tour in the next couple years and will radiate out and impact property values not only on that street, but in other areas of the city,” Purcell told the Ledger-Enquirer. “It will be one of the final nails in the coffin of Eufaula for growth and development for future use.”

The tour of homes Purcell is talking about is the annual Eufaula Pilgrimage. Each April the city steps back in time to honor its antebellum past.

Purcell’s message is clear: Kill the trees, kill the history, you might as well kill the town.

This is going to be one hell of a fight.

Having grown up in Eufaula, I know what the ADOT folks are walking into. Bring dinner, boys, you’re going to be there a while.

What scares the people of Eufaula is that ADOT will hightail it out of town and come back next year with the pavers.

Something has to give.

Right now, let’s see who has the best uppercut. First punch is at 6:30 p.m. CST.