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County seeks Tiger Grant

Escambia County officials are hoping that joining with other counties in the state will give them an edge in winning a grant to help replace or repair structurally unsound bridges.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama and  the Association of County Engineers have submitted an application to be a part of a national transportation enhancement program, the Tiger Grant II.

“We applied for the Tiger Grant last year,” said Bill Bridges, Escambia County engineer. “At that time we did not get the funds. We are hoping to be able to get some of the money that was left over from last year. At that time it was to be 100 percent funding and now we have to match 20 percent.”

Alabama has a total of 8,628 bridges on county roads. Of that number 1,568 — 18 percent — are considered structurally deficient.

Many county bridges that were built between 1940 and 1960 are in need of repair or replacement. The infrastructure has been in place in the state for more than 50 years and needs to be repaired or replaced.

The discretionary Tiger Grant funds would be used to replace county bridges in 24 Alabama counties, totaling some $48 million. The individual counties would be required to provide a 20 percent match should the application be approved.

Escambia County intends to replace two bridges, with construction costs totaling $518,960.

Escambia County Commissioner Larry White, who is also president of the Association of County Commissions, said the two bridges are one on Cooper Cemetery Road over Mill Creek and one on County Road 69, which is the Damascus Road over Smith Creek.

“We tried to get some grant money last year as part of the original Tiger Grant, but didn’t get it,” White said. “This time we hope by combining these 24 counties, that we will be more visible. The money is coming from left over money from Tiger Grant I last year and we are hopeful about getting some of it for Escambia County. We are always on the lookout for grant money that will benefit our county.”

The county has repaired several bridges over the past 10 years, but there is never enough funding to do everything that is needed.

“We are very excited about the possibility of our application rising to the top of this national process,” said ACCA Executive Director Sonny Brasfield. “The bridges represent transportation of school children, the agriculture and forestry industry and the overall safety of Alabama’s motoring public.”

The program is through the U.S. Department of Transportation and includes $600 million that will be awarded to applicants from throughout the nation, In 2009, Alabama counties combined their efforts to seek federal funding for a similar bridge program as part of the stimulus package. The current program emphasizes rural areas and, according to Brasfield, seems to be a better match for the bridge projects here in Alabama.

“You never know exactly how an application will be received, but the bridges included in this application are in desperate need of repair and meet the federal criteria,” Brasfield said. “Using the accepted criteria, if this application is fully funded it should produce more than 1,400 construction jobs here in Alabama.”