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‘Stay the course,’ West Alabama leaders say of highway project

Leaders advocating for the fulfillment of the West Alabama Highway Construction project came together again today to drive home a message: “Stay the course, don’t look back,” as State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) put it. 

Contention over the prioritization of projects across the state, and the limited funds available to get them done, has generated urgency for regional leaders who are ready to see improvements made. 

Allen said the project “creates opportunities for rural Alabama for new jobs and new industry to come.” Allen chairs the committee responsible for transportation in the Alabama Senate.

“Stay the course, don’t look back,” he said. “Look forward because this will help rural Alabama.”

RELATED: Mobile mayor says West Alabama Highway an option to I-65

The project, announced by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2021, will create a four-lane route from Tuscaloosa to Mobile. Some leaders, primarily Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, say state dollars should instead be spent on widening Interstate 65 to six lanes. 

Local and state lawmakers, business leaders and local groups gathered Thursday in Tuscaloosa to support the West Alabama project. They agreed the plan in motion is the one that needs to be delivered. 

“We all know that infrastructure investment is the first step toward economic development success,” said Kyle South, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “Not having those assets limits, if not eliminates, the possibility of growth and prosperity. Our message today is simple: we want the West Alabama Highway project to move forward without any further delay.”

RELATED: Ainsworth wants I-65 expansion to take priority over ‘other needs’

The Alabama Department of Transportation’s plan revolves around financing the project through bonds, to be repaid using the proceeds from the 2019-approved Rebuild Alabama Act. ALDOT leaders have said the project’s total cost could reach $1 billion. 

“When the governor of the state of Alabama says we’re going to invest millions of dollars in an area of the state that has been historically neglected and denied this sort of opportunity, it’s a signal to other people that is it OK to invest in West Alabama as well,” State Rep. Chris England (R-Tuscaloosa) said.

“This is an opportunity, an invitation to bring some of that investment back.”

RELATED: Road rage: Lawmakers battle over funding for highway projectsIvey announces I-65 widening, $500M for projects

Last month, more than a dozen elected leaders throughout West Alabama gathered in Thomasville to express their support for continued construction of the highway.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said the highway will connect Tuscaloosa and Mobile, “two of the economic hearts of our state.” 

“This project, as laid out by the governor and the Legislature, begins to turn the page on much-needed investment in an area of the state that’s gone decades without it,” Maddox said. “We shouldn’t be walking backwards from this very important moment in our state’s history.”

Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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