Source: Birmingham (Ala.) News
Author: Ginny MacDonald
(Alabama) Memorialized roads turn highways into myways
Alabama landscape boasts hundreds of personalized streets, bridges and tunnels
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - It takes only a little political pull in Alabama to have a highway or bridge or tunnel named for you. There are 460 transportation sites in the state named for veterans, war heroes and children killed by drunk drivers; for felons, politicians, turkey hunters; for blues and country singers, civil rights leaders, road builders and, oh yeah, roosters. Being fast is enough to get you recognized. Eddie Martin set a world speed record driving a wrecker, and he has a parkway named for him. The parkway extends from U.S. 231 to U.S. 411 in St. Clair County. The job of cataloging the gubernatorial edicts, legislative acts and whims of state transportation directors falls to Ronny Pouncey of the Alabama Department of Transportation. "It boggles my mind that there are so many highways named for individuals," Pouncey said. "And periodically someone will ask `Why is such-and-such highway not named?' "You can't name them all, and you sure can't identify them all on a state map. This has been an issue over the years." Pouncey said he knows of no incidents where the name of a public structure was ever retracted. He said he adds five to 15 names a year to the list. "Tune in again next year," Pouncey said. "I'll have a few more names." Most of the "in honor ofs" come from the Legislature, Pouncey said. But, fortunately for him, not all of them are on the official state map. In fact, only 13 named highways are. That includes 11 roads that were named before 1939 for people and landmarks, such as Bee Line and Bankhead highways, that have been on state maps for years. The map also includes three national scenic byways. The only road named for a school on the map is Troy University Highway (U.S. 231 from Troy to the Florida line.) There are numerous roads named for the state's four-year colleges, but only Troy got the map distinction. That's because former Gov. George Wallace ordered it placed on the state map as a favor to his friend, Ralph Adams, who was school president. "And that was the extent of the named highways on the map until we put the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway on there," Pouncey said. The expressway is part of Interstate 85 in Montgomery and is the only named section of interstate on the official map. Alabama 22 between Selma and Clanton is named for another civil rights-era figure, Bull Connor, the Birmingham police commissioner in the 1960s widely known for ordering fire hoses to be turned on young civil rights protesters. DOT prints about 2 million state maps every two years. Pity Interstate 65. It has at least six other names. Between Birmingham and Decatur, it's the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway. For six miles near Prattville, it's named for road builder Billy Newell. From Millbrook south to Georgiana is the Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway. In Escambia County between the Atmore exit and Flomaton, it's the J.M. "Mac" Mays Highway, named for a former state senator. It's also tagged the Heroes Highway and the Purple Heart Highway from Mobile to Tennessee. Then there are the Tammy highways. The Tammy Little Drive in Jackson County is named for the 1984 Miss Alabama. But the state has had three Miss Americas who don't have their own highways, according to state records. The Tammy Wynette Highway, named for the country music star, crosses Franklin County. Music road: Speaking of music, there's the Vestal Goodman Highway (Alabama 75) between Fyffe and Geraldine named for "America's queen of gospel music and Alabama native," according to the legislative act. Part of U.S. 72 from Florence to the Mississippi line is named for musician and composer W.C. Handy. There are three sections of state roads named for state troopers killed on duty: Willis Moore, Alabama 255 in Madison County; Brian Keith Nichols, Alabama 56 from Chatom to Wagarville in Washington County; and David Temple, Alabama 20 in Limestone County. The Wiggins Children Memorial Bridge on U.S. 84 in Clarke County is named for three children killed in a crash caused by a drunk driver. Sometimes the commemoratives raise questions. Only the southbound lane of the west side of U.S. 280 as it crosses the Coosa River is named the Childersburg Veterans Memorial Bridge. The legislative act naming the bridge does not say why the entire bridge was not designated, but it does say the designation is for veterans "who provided unexcelled service." The Rooster Bridge, which was demolished in 1980, was so named because roosters donated by prominent people were auctioned in 1919 to raise money to build the bridge. The top bird - with something to crow about briefly - was named Woodrow and sold for $55,000. He was donated by then-President Woodrow Wilson. But the person who placed the winning bid for Woodrow skipped out, and the auction only raised $45,000. The bridge, which spanned the Tombigbee River near Demopolis, eventually was built in 1922. In 1971, the state Legislature decreed that any bridge spanning the Tombigbee River must be named Rooster Bridge. And the tradition lingers. Advocates for road improvements in Demopolis recently gave Alabama Transportation Director Joe McInnes a live rooster. "I gave him to a part-time farmer at DOT," McInnes said. "Ethics, you know."