Widening Alabama Hwy 167 offers Gov. Ivey opportunity to connect rural Geneva County to Interstate Highway System says State Senator Chesteen
DOTHAN — Some beachgoers headed south from Montgomery to Panama City Beach, Fla. may be familiar with a backroad that allows travelers to avoid traffic on U.S. Highway 231 in Ozark, Dothan and Panama City, Fla. and instead takes them through Enterprise and Bonifay, Fla. before arriving on the west side of Panama City Beach.
That route, which begins in Troy, is formally known as Alabama Highway 167, which transitions to Florida Highway 79 at the Alabama-Florida state line. However, if policymakers in southeastern Alabama have their way, it could be improved to serve more than just a beach shortcut but an evacuation route for Panhandle Floridians and an economic development corridor Alabamians in rural Geneva County.
During an interview with Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Friday, State Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) explained how an effort was underway to promote a partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation to improve Alabama Highway 167 and Florida Highway 79 that would give Geneva County four-lane connectivity to the Interstate Highway System.
“For the last 25 years, there was talk of an I-10 connector here in the Wiregrass,” Chesteen said. “It’s been talked about and talked about, but nothing has been done. The natural corridor has been [Alabama Highway 167]. Recently, a group of us met with [Dothan Mayor] Mark Saliba and [Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce president] Matt Parker here in the Dothan area. And what’s really interesting now is the regional approach that has been taken in the Wiregrass. You know, we’re getting out of our silos, and we’re looking at now – we pretty much know the I-10 connector is not going to happen. So let’s take the existing infrastructure we have and look at expanding the capacity. That’s where 167 comes in.”
“There’s 14 miles from Bonifay, Florida, where I-10 intersects with 79 to the Alabama state line,” he continued. “Our legislative delegation and the mayor of Dothan and another group went down and met with the Secretary of the Department of Transportation for the Panhandle of Florida – a very good meeting. Their comment was, ‘What is taking you guys so long?’ That’s our natural corridor. So we left there with a pretty good understanding that if we can commit at the state line working north, Florida will meet with us and work with us in the next year or so and look at starting from I-10 north. That was a very good meeting. Then we took that same group and met with Gov. [Kay] Ivey’s chief of staff Jo Bonner and [Alabama Department of Transportation director John] Cooper and talked about our meeting with Florida DOT. We have some opportunity. We’re getting some traction for the first time.”
According to Chesteen, Florida’s interest in the route’s improvements stems from the growth on the Florida Gulf Coast between Panama City and Pensacola.
“We’re hearing by the next 10 years, there will be another million people on the coast,” he said. “And Florida’s answer was we have to have another corridor to get people off the coast in the event of a [Hurricane] Michael or something like that because if you have never lived in area like this and have seen the influx of people coming off that coast, I mean it is bumper-to-bumper, every lane at a snail’s pace. So we have to have that capacity.”
The Geneva Republican also noted the project is an opportunity for Gov. Kay Ivey to check off another Alabama county in a quest to provide four-lane access to an Interstate, which in this case is Interstate Highway 10 in Florida.
“Governor Ivey is all about developing rural Alabama, helping rural Alabama,” Chesteen added. “This is another opportunity for her to be able to connect a rural county seven miles from basically Hartford, Alabama – seven miles to the state line, 14 miles to the interstate.”