High drama: Locust Fork gets $640,000 grant:

loses out at first, gets reprieve, blows doors off competition in final round (in a manner of speaking)



First, the news. Locust Fork has received a $640,000 competitive grant award for a nearly three-quarter-mile-long sidewalk project along the main thoroughfare of the town, stretching from Locust Fork Park at the southwest end of town to Locust Fork Baptist Church at the northeast end.

Next the players. From the left above: mild-mannered teammates Attorney Brett King, District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong, Locust Fork Mayor Joe Hughes, and Mike “Kaz” Kaczorowski. King and Armstrong are both Blount County’s appointed representatives to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the granting agency; Hughes represents the grant applicant and is a happy surprise winner of the great grant sweepstakes; and “Kaz” is a member of the MPO committee that evaluated the grant applications.

Missing from this photo of the winning team is county engineer Dustin Stewart, who set the juggernaut in motion months ago when he in effect nominated Locust Fork for a place in the race. Also missing from the team photo is District 4 Commissioner Nick Washburn, also a member of MPO, and commissioner for the district where Locust Fork resides.

Then the details. The sidewalk will run along the west side of Ala 79 (the Jack’s and Locust Fork School side) from Park Road to County Road 13, with extensions down Park Road, County Road 13 (to Locust Fork School), and picking up across Ala 79 on the east side with a short extension to the church, according to Locust Fork Mayor Joe Hughes, who was elated by the award. The project includes pedestrian lighting along the walkway, Hughes said.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “Here’s the little town of Locust Fork – never been heard of or gotten anything like this before, then we win big the first shot out of the gate! It gives us an opportunity to promote walking as a healthy lifestyle, gives Locust Fork a nice town feel, kind of ties the town together, and gives citizens something to be proud of.” He said the sidewalk connects activities at the park to activities at the school, to activities at Locust Fork Baptist Church, which has both an exercise program for adults and after-school programs for school kids.

And finally – high drama. First, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) announced the beginning of its grant cycle for competitive Transportation Alternative Project (TAP) grants. Locust Fork got busy preparing its application and submitted it. But when award announcement time came, their was no love for poor Locust Fork. It didn’t finish in the money. But wait! MPO also got a little pot of TAP funds to distribute among its retainers – enough for a couple of awards, and Blount County’s representatives tossed Locust Fork’s hat into the ring again. Howdy Doody Tutti Fruiti!!! (Thanks to revenue commissioner Gregg Armstrong for that one-of-a-kind expression of exclamatory fervor). This time Locust Fork WON. Not only won, but beat out the application from Hoover! And the one from Pelham! And the one from big, bad… wait for it… BIRMINGHAM!

The rest, as they say, is – not history, in this case, but future headlines. Construction on Locust Fork’s sidewalk project will begin in 2019, perhaps toward the latter part of the year. (Design, specifications, and other paper work take time.) It should be complete in 2020, with the exact timing dependent on weather and related imponderables.

Thus, the story of Locust Fork’s big victory “the first shot out of the gate.”