Helena pushes for roads Mayor Penhale pleads with Gov. Riley for help

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 24, 2004

As he drove to a meeting earlier this month, Helena Mayor Charles &uot;Sonny&uot; Penhale reached the point of desperation when he found himself bound in traffic for 45 minutes.

That’s when he decided it was time to take his city’s traffic woes straight to the top.

Last Thursday, Penhale met with Gov. Bob Riley and his chief of staff in Montgomery to plead his city’s case for long-overdue road construction on Alabama Highway 261.

&uot;You can’t get on and off the road. I know exactly what people are going through,&uot; he said.

Penhale’s visit to Montgomery last week also included face time with state Department of Transportation leaders, followed by a brief talk with Riley.

&uot;I told him, ‘I’m begging’,&uot; Penhale said of his talk with Riley.

For now, Penhale said he expects Riley to help bring the widening of Alabama 261 back into the budget for state road projects.

&uot;The governor said he would do everything he can to help us,&uot; Penhale said.

For several years, Alabama Highway 261 has been scheduled for widening through Pelham and Helena from two lanes to five. Last fall, Helena city leaders were told the project had been delayed for two more years.

Penhale wants the project back in the state DOT’s plans.

&uot;We’re trying to get it back in the system and get it moving now,&uot; Penhale said.

According to Penhale, he was told in Montgomery that the state is awaiting approval from the federal highway department for the proposed route for Alabama 261.

In the meantime, Penhale has made Alabama 261 a priority.

He said traffic congestion in Helena, ranked the state’s fastest-growing city, is one of the city’s few problems.

&uot;If we get traffic problems solved, everybody’s happy,&uot; Penhale said.

Other Helena groups have shown support for securing funding for road projects in Helena and Shelby County.

Representatives from the Helena Economic Development Board spoke at a hearing before a state House of Representatives committee earlier this month.

Also, the Helena Citizens Advisory Committee created an on-line petition supporting a bill to restructure the state DOT.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, was approved by the House State Government Committee last Wednesday.

The bill could come up for a vote in the House of Representatives this legislative session.

To address Helena’s traffic problem, Penhale has scheduled a public hearing on Tuesday, March 2, at 5 p.m. in the council chambers of Helena City Hall.

Penhale scheduled the hearing to get input on the pending Alabama 261 project.

The second step, Penhale said, is up to Riley.