Overcoming Poverty: West Alabama highway expected to bring economic opportunity
This is one part in a multipart series called “Raising the Bar: Overcoming Poverty in Alabama”
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Crews are clearing land in west Alabama for a new highway. The four-lane road will stretch from Tuscaloosa to Mobile, and Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day said he is excited about the traffic that’s going to come to the region.
“We’re prepared for our community, our businesses and our citizens to take advantage of the opportunities that the new traffic is going to bring to our region,” said Day.
Traffic will bring more dollars to Thomasville.
“Although we’re as close or closer to Mercedes and some of these manufacturing facilities as many other communities because of the fact that we’re not on an interstate corridor, we immediately get X’d off the list,” said Day.
However, the project that would bring more people to Thomasville was in jeopardy. Not everyone is on board for the project, through multiple tweets Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth expressed that he rather see money spent on widening Interstate 65 to six lanes from the Tennessee border to the Gulf Coast due to frequent standstill traffic.
In August, his plan was endorsed by former President Donald Trump during his visit to Alabama for the Alabama GOP summer meeting.
Ainsworth’s office did not respond to our multiple requests for an interview. Despite his public opposition to the west Alabama highway, it will be built.
In October, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a design contract for $75 million for the west Alabama highway. WSFA 12 news contacted Ivey’s office for more context, and they declined a sit-down interview. But shared her support for the project at a recent event for rural economic development.
“It will be an absolute game-changer for our most economically disadvantaged communities,” Ivey said at the event.
The highway will allow more access to west Alabama and could entice companies to locate there and bring more jobs.
“Our last name is Alabama too,” said Day. “We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for a chance to lift ourselves up to be better.”
The current cost is estimated at $760 million. The funding will come from a 2019 gas tax increase that’s part of the Rebuild Alabama Act.
“It’ll be a fully state-funded project. And it will rely on those new funds,” said Tony Harry with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The west Alabama highway project will start in Thomasville and extend north into Tuscaloosa County. While the highway will bring opportunity to the western portion of the state, it will also mean relief for places like Moundville.
Highway 69, which runs through the town, currently turns from a four-lane road to two lanes, creating congestion in front of Hale County High School and middle school.
“It becomes a bottleneck. And you got dump trucks to haul the sand and gravel from the area. And then you think about you got young drivers out on the road,” said Rep. Curtis Travis, D-Hale County.
With the new corridor comes a different route for trucks, alleviating that through traffic and sending it around the town.
The west Alabama highway is expected to take four to six years to complete. That’s not soon enough for Day, who said, “We were really excited that Governor Ivey and the Alabama Department of Transportation finally put a stake in the ground, so to speak.”
The highway will be completed in phases. The first is underway in Linden. The Alabama Department of Transportation expects the next phase to begin in early to mid-2024.
ALDOT posts details of the project on its website.
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