By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, January 7 Alabama State Auditor Elect Jim Zeigler (R) has filed an emergency motion asking the court to halt controversial roadwork on Eufaula’s historic First Avenue.
Jim Zeigler told the ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ that the Alabama Department of Transportation is pushing ahead on this project to four lane six blocks of Highway 431 because they don’t want any review of the project.
Zeigler said that the state could have requested federal funding for this project but instead are using state dollars because the federal government would have required environmental impact and historical impact studies of the project that they knew this project would never pass any sort of review.
Zeigler said, “We have a $170 million shortfall in the General Fund and they are wasting over a $ million on this project. This is exactly the sort of waste I am going to expose as state auditor.”
In a written statement, Zeigler said that workers are now cutting trees and removing curbs on historic North Eufaula Avenue. Zeigler, an attorney representing First Avenue homeowners, asked a Montgomery Judge to issue an immediate restraining order halting the work or set an immediate hearing. Zeigler has filed suit against the Alabama Department of Transportation on behalf of three property owners on the avenue which was made famous in the movie “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Zeigler said in the filing that workers are now “rapidly cutting the famous ‘canopy’ of trees over-hanging the historical avenue. “They are at this moment rapidly ripping out the curbs so that paving the median can begin.”
In his emergency motion, Zeigler attached a legal opinion from a Eufaula city attorney that argues that the state does not own the median that they are tearing up and does not have a right to pave it. Zeigler told the ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ that the median is owned by the City of Eufaula and the state does not own the right of way to pave the median, but ALDOT is doing it anyway.
The case has been set for a hearing Jan. 14, but Zeigler said in his statement to the court: “By the time of the hearing … the irreparable damage will have already occurred in whole or substantial part.”
Zeigler has shared his filing with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R), Alabama Department of Transportation Director John R. Cooper, Midsouth Paving Inc., and ALDOT Chief Counsel Jim R. Ippolito, Jr.
A number of large home were built on Eufaula’s historic First Avenue beginning well before the Civil War. Some of the homes were built a human lifetime before the first automobile appeared. Tourists from across the South and beyond come to see the historic homes and enjoy the fishing and wildlife at the nearby lakes, state park, and national wildlife refuge.
ALDOT has spent decades working on four laning segments of U.S. highway 431 that serves rural east Alabama, but is primarily used a conduit for tourists going to Panama City and Destin in Florida. A portion of First Avenue in Eufaula with it’s stately Antebellum and Victorian homes were bypassed by those most recent road improvements remaining relatively unchanged for decades. ALDOT officials have announced that that is changing and they must widen that less than one mile of road because it slows motorists and is a traffic bottleneck. Homeowners argue that widening the road will cost the scenic stretch dozens of trees and will hurt the aesthetics of the neighborhood. The entire three blocks is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eufaula has the largest historic district in Southeast Alabama and includes over 700 homes and buildings many of them on First Avenue. Residents argue that the state could simply build a bypass around the center of Eufaula. ALDOT argues that that would cost too much and that widening the road by ripping out much of the tree lined median is the most cost effective solution.
Zeigler and Eufaula attorney James L. Martin filed the motion on behalf of three Eufaula property owners.
Zeigler is a former Public Service Commissioner who has spent decades on the Alabama political scene. Zeigler is an attorney who specializes in eldercare issues. Zeigler will be inaugurated as Alabama’s next State Auditor on January 19.