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Governor promises road relief

Alabama Governor Don Siegelman said Monday he was "dead serious" about improving roadways through Marengo County. "Hang on, it’s coming," he said.

We’re going to stay on track with our (highway) 43 four-laning," he said.

Siegelman also said the state was going to stay on track with the proposed North-South freeway on the western side of the state. "We’ve already completed the engineering for Muscle Shoals to Tuscaloosa," he stated, "and we’re going to get the engineering underway for Tuscaloosa south this year.

Senator Richard Shelby has been consistent in his commitment for "an interstate quality road that will connect Corridor X over to (interstates) 59 and 65," the governor said.

The governor visited the construction site Monday afternoon for the new Naheola Bridge over the Tombigbee River. The bridge, which will cost $14.6 million, is halfway complete and will span 3,170 feet.

The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2003.

The current Naheola bridge has been closed to automobile traffic since June 1999. It previously linked Marengo and Choctaw Counties on Alabama Highway 114.

There is still railroad traffic on the current bridge.

The closure to autombiles has "disrupted the daily lives of residents in terms of the daily detour to get across the river," Siegelman said, "but it also has posed a serious concern for emergency vehicles getting across the river."

He spoke to a small group gathered at the bridge including county commissioners Freddie Armstead, Max Joiner and George Baldwin, Probate Judge Cindy Neilsen, Linden Mayor Pat Vice, and Kevin McKinney of the county E-911 board.

Running an hour late in his visit Monday to Marengo County, the governor finally arrived for the scheduled "listening post" meeting at the Demopolis Middle School.

A group gathered in the school cafeteria which included Demopolis Mayor Austin Caldwell, the entire city council, state representatives, county leaders, city school administrators, leaders with the Chamber of Commerce, as well as students, parents and other members of the public.

During a question and answer session, Marengo County Commissioner Ken Tucker thanked Siegelman for his attention to West Alabama through various funding means. Tucker also asked how Demopolis can prepare to attract the potential 100 suppliers for Hyundai.

Siegelman said he would be visiting communities throughout the area finding out what they need to attract industry. He said the local community leaders often know better what is needed than the government in Montgomery.

He thought Marengo County’s chances of getting one of the suppliers to makes its home here was "pretty good &045; over a period of time."

Demopolis City Councilman Woody Collins asked Siegelman what city officials could do to help speed progress in infrastructure. As in the case of the bridge that was rebuilt in 38 days in Birmingham’s interstate "Malfunction Junction," the governor said he wants to find a way to cut through the red tape of competitive bids, engineering and environmental studies to make the process of road improvement faster.

Councilman Ronnie O’Neal spoke to the governor of how wonderful a town Demopolis was that is "set for business" with great schools, good race relations, nice spec buildings and property available. "We’re ready, "O’Neal said.

Siegelman said he would work on a fast track plan for completing the 22 miles of four-laning on Highway 80 west to Cuba.