Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Rural roads need fixing

  Last week, we talked about the importance of roads to economic development. We spoke about urban growth and expansion, especially the need for highways in Huntsville and the improvement of the port in Mobile.

  Well, I overlooked the need for and importance of our rural roads. Make no doubt about it, our rural roads need fixing too. A good many of the rural bridges in the state have been condemned and are hazardous for heavy trucks and school buses to travel. Many folks figure it would be cheaper to pay more for gasoline than it is to pay for having their front-ends aligned and tires balanced every few weeks from hitting potholes in the road.

  Some of our farm to market roads have not been fixed since Big Jim Folsom had them built in the 1950s. Big Jim left an indelible legacy as governor with his legendary and necessary "Farm to Market" program.

  There are a good many stories and memories of Ole Big Jim from his time as a "farm to market" road and bridges builder. One of those stories comes out of Scottsboro and Jackson County in the northeast corner of Alabama. It is one of the prettiest parts of Alabama, especially in the fall.

  One of Big Jim’s favorite political friends was Rep. John Snodgrass of Scottsboro. Big Jim loved John Snodgrass. The feeling was mutual. Big Jim decided to build a bridge and name it after his buddy. He didn’t just build a little bridge; he built a big bridge over the Tennessee River. The problem was they built the bridge where there was no road. Folks in Scottsboro marveled at the fact that the bridge they longed for was built without a road leading up to it.

  Big Jim and Snodgrass never worried about it for a minute. They told the good folks in the Tennessee Valley, “Don’t you know that if you build a bridge, they’ve got to build a road to it?”

  Sure enough, the road was built and is now the main thoroughfare through Sand Mountain – Highway 17 that runs through Jackson and Dekalb Counties. Ole Big Jim and Snodgrass were right - if you build a bridge, a road will follow.

  Big Jim built the bridge for his friend with the intention of calling it the John Snodgrass Bridge. But there was a lot of opposition to naming it after John Snodgrass because some of the folks didn’t believe that you should name something after somebody who was living.

  Well, Snodgrass was heir to a great family name in Jackson County. His granddaddy and daddy had both been prominent judges in the county.

  One day Big Jim pulled his friend Snodgrass aside and said, “John, what was yore daddy’s name?” Snodgrass said, “John, just like me.” “What about your granddaddy?” John said, “John just like me.” Big Jim said, “Hell, they are both dead, and they are named John Snodgrass. We will just name it after them and it will be really named after you.”

  Shortly after naming the Snodgrass Bridge, Big Jim was going to name another recently built bridge in North Alabama. The good folks in this county had worked on this bridge project for over a decade and Big Jim had gotten it done. The probate judge of the county had spearheaded the project and waited diligently on it, and the bridge was going to be named after him, and rightfully so.

  Well, the day of the bridge opening ceremony was set, and Big Jim was headed out of Montgomery in the governor’s limousine. As he passed the old Exchange Hotel, Folsom spotted his best drinking buddy. He got his driver to stop the car and grabbed his friend to join him on his journey to dedicate the bridge. To say that Big Jim and his friend had a couple of nips on the way would be an understatement. When Big Jim got to the dedication ceremony, he stumbled out of the car, barefoot, hair disheveled, tie loosened, and dragged his friend along with him. He stumbled to the stage, and to the dismay of the crowd and especially the probate judge, pronounced the name of the bridge after his drinking buddy. He and his buddy, the proud honoree of a bridge, got back in the governor’s car and drove back to Montgomery.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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