Much of the past three years in Tuscaloosa has been dominated by recovery from the April 27, 2011 tornado. So, where does Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox believe the city stands today?
"There is no playbook to this," Maddox said, speaking with FOX6 about the three years since the storm.
"There's no way to balance all the different emotions from thousands of different people. But I think we've done about the best job that we can, in that we've listened, taken those concerns to heart, and we've acted," he said.
Even now, three years later, Mayor Maddox says about 25 percent of his schedule, if not more, is directly related to storm recovery.
Maddox describes City Hall's response to the storm as long-term planning, rather than looking for short-term solutions. He admits that has led to some difficult decisions.
As for criticism that government has played too much of a role in rebuilding, Maddox responds that the plan was influenced by citizens.
"We're being governed by the Tuscaloosa Forward plan. We had tens of thousands of people participate in town hall meetings, to decide what they wanted recovery to look like. Our recovery is a reflection of their values," he said.
Maddox says progress is visible in the recovery areas, but it doesn't happen overnight. As for when citizens can expect some sort of conclusion to rebuilding, Maddox believes upcoming milestones will be important.
"I think the five-year mark is applicable to the 15th Street/McFarland Blvd. corridor and in areas of Rosedale. I think the 10-year mark is more applicable in Alberta, mainly because we had to start behind the other two sectors, because of the Kicker Road bridge on University Blvd," he said.
Maddox is referring to the state's construction on the bridge leading into Alberta, set to begin later this year.
Still, Maddox believes Alberta stands to see the most dramatic long-term change.
"I see a day in the next five to ten years where Alberta will be a great sample of this community. You'll have whites and blacks, you'll have students and non-students, you'll have all levels of socioeconomic status living in this community."
Maddox also says another big change at the 15th Street/McFarland Blvd. intersection is just months away.
"In late July, early August, a new $60 million shopping center is going to go where Cedar Crest used to be. This is going to be an amazing shopping center. It's going to bring tenants to the market that haven't been there in a long time," he said.
However, that brings the issue of more traffic congestion at an already busy intersection. Work is now underway there to widen the road. Maddox also says issues like this are where City Hall's attention is shifting.
"In the next 12 months, the real issue is not going to be lack of construction, it's going to be too much construction and how do we handle it. And that's a very good problem to have, because it means that we're moving in the right direction."
Maddox says the City has been aggressive in seeking federal funding, but the timing of the tornado has complicated the process.
"The fact of the matter is if we would have had this disaster in 2005 or 2006, we would have received hundreds of millions of dollars without ever having to lift a finger. But we had our disaster in the great recession, where Congress cut back funding, declared sequestration and also shut down the government."
A marker detailing the significance of April 27, 2011 is now at Government Plaza in Downtown Tuscaloosa. But Maddox says the next couple of years may bring a permanent tribute to the 53 lives lost in Tuscaloosa on that day.
"I think as we get through to the fifth year anniversary, there will probably be more thought put into that. Quite frankly, since the minutes passed on 5:13 p.m. on April 27, we've either been focused on response or recovery."
Like a lot of Alabamians, Maddox says it's the personal encounters from that time he will remember the most.
"They would say, 'You know I lost my home in the tornado, but I'm out here volunteering.' And I'm thinking 'Why are you hugging me? I should be the one hugging you, you're the one who's experiencing pain and suffering, I have a home to return to at night.' Those are the memories that will stay with me for a lifetime," Maddox said.
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