City leaders in Northport broke ground Thursday morning on the first phase of a long-awaited project to improve Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard, starting with the replacement of the aging bridge over Two Mile Creek.

Northport residents - especially in the predominantly Black District 2 - have for decades heard politicians promise to transform the much-used roadway. Although the bridge replacement only represents the first phase of keeping those promises, elected officials of the past and present were ecstatic to finally show progress.

City Engineer Tera Tubbs called the MLK Boulevard improvements a "career-long project" she first heard discussed in 1998 during a job interview at a local engineering firm.

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(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
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Although it took 25 years from those discussions to the Thursday morning groundbreaking, Tubbs said the ambitious project is truly underway.

"What we have landed on today is going to be two phases," Tubbs said. "One is the bridge project and our contractor, GFC, has already gotten notice to proceed. It's a 280-day contract, so we're looking at about a year for this bridge to be out."

That's around 10 months, so the portion of MLK Boulevard closed while the bridge is out could be reopened late next summer.

"The second phase is the roadway reconstruction project that will go from Snows Mill Avenue all the way back to Bridge Avenue and it will be sidewalks, lighting and a complete reconstruction of the roadway," Tubbs said. "It's currently in the right-of-way acquisition phase and it is budgeted to go to construction in 2024. Everything is going well with the right-of-way so we see no reason why that project shouldn't begin on time."

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Woodrow Washington, the city councilman who represents District 2, is extremely familiar with MLK Boulevard and its needs - his family's Archibald & Woodrow’s Barbeque has been in business there since 1962.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
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Washington's remarks at the Thursday morning groundbreaking were short and grateful - especially for his predecessors in office Robert Thomas, Jay Logan, Lorenzo Freeman whose early advocacy for the area made the project possible.

"I also want to say thank you to the entire city staff, who worked on this project continuously, nonstop," Washington said. "All the people of District 2 who have endured all this wait and wait - perseverance is everything to me, so I want to say thank you to you as well for understanding and knowing that good things come with time."

Washington also thanked Mayor John Hinton and said he started "kicking dirt and throwing punches" to make sure the work got underway.

Martin Luther King Boulevard in Northport is now closed in the area around Two Mile Creek Bridge and will be for at least nine months. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the bridge was built in 1979 and more than 8,000 vehicles cross over it daily.

For more updates on this project and others across West Alabama, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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