FLORENCE — The city of Florence has taken a major step toward reopening a direct connection between west Florence and Alabama Highway 20.

It recently approved a $1.2 million contract with Volkert Inc. for engineering and design services for the West College Street extension and bridge project.

That signals a move toward providing access that has been gone for generations.  The bridge was west of where West Mobile and West College streets join.

The resolution to approve the contract was presented by Mayor Andy Betterton and District 1 Councilwoman Kaytrina Simmons whose district includes west Florence. 

“We feel pretty confident that it’s going to happen,” said Simmons. “The council is certainly supportive of it. It’ll open up that area and I’m certain it’ll help economically.”

Volkert’s scope of work will include a field survey, corridor study, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting, Alabama Department of Transportation permit plan assembly, roadway and bridge plans, bridge hydraulic report and assessment, geotechnical services and right-of-way, according to the contract.

Volkert completed a feasibility study for the city in August and recommended connecting west Florence with Alabama 20 at Gunwaleford Road. According to the firm, the project will cost just over $17 million.

“West Florence and that whole area would love to have it happen, and I’d love to make it happen as well,” said Betterton. “I think this will open up west Florence and western Lauderdale County.” 

Florence is looking to the state to help fund the project. According to Betterton, once Florence developed a plan for the project, the governor’s office asked the city to have an engineering study. The next step after that would be for it to go out to bid.

The mayor estimated the process taking 5-8 years.  Like it or not, the speed of government is slow. The city is aware we’ll have to match some of those dollars,” Betterton said.