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U.S. 80 work set for January

The running joke &045;&045; if it can be called that &045;&045; about the four-laning of U.S. Highway 80 is that the project has been on the Alabama Department of Transportation’s "five-year" plan for more than 40 years now.

Earlier this year, Jerry Holt &045;&045; engineer for the division of ALDOT that serves the Marengo County area &045;&045; announced bids would finally be let for the four-laning of U.S. 80 from State Road 28, West of Demopolis, to the intersection where State Road 28 moves north toward Livingston.

Holt said the bids would be let in November 2004, and construction of the four-lane would then begin a few months later.

Then, Demopolis Mayor Austin Caldwell noticed something peculiar &045;&045; thought entirely normal &045;&045; in a schedule of projects released by ALDOT. On the schedule, Caldwell found that the four-laning project had been bumped back another year. In other words, ALDOT had changed the time for bids from November 2004 to November 2005.

With the assistance of City Attorney Rick Manley, Caldwell decided to stand up against the never ending postponement of the U.S. 80 project.

Manley and Caldwell wrote a letter to Gov. Bob Riley, saying they were discouraged that the U.S. 80 project had been postponed by another year.

Soon after, Transportation Director Joe McInnes contacted city officials and set things straight. The U.S. 80 project, he said, would not only be moved up to November 2004, it actually will begin in January 2004. That means ALDOT will begin letting bids for the project, which will cost nearly $8 million to complete.

Mayor Austin Caldwell, who has watched the U.S. 80 project progress ever so slowly &045;&045; he said it’s been 50 years in the making &045;&045;

and Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Leverett met with earlier this year.

Caldwell was assured that the four-laning of U.S. 80 is a priority for Gov. Bob Riley.

Economic development in the Black Belt hinges on the completion of four-laning the major highway artery through central Alabama.

Along with new industries vital to the growth of Alabama, Caldwell also believes having U.S. 80 four-laned will help existing industries like Gulf States.

The six-mile stretch of highway scheduled to receive work begins in Marengo County where State Road 28 turns to Linden off U.S. 80. The work would progress across the Tombigbee River into Sumter County and stop where State Road 28 turns to Livingston.

There have been two difficulties in completing the four-laning project on U.S. 80. One has been the bypass around Uniontown and the other has been crossing the Tombigbee River.

In Uniontown, ALDOT has hired an independent engineer to plot the corridor for a bypass north of the small town 15 miles East of Demopolis. As for the Tombigbee River, Holt said some of the work will be made easier because of existing piers built to accommodate two more lanes of traffic.