It only took Noah 40 years to build God’s ark

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 8, 2004

Fifty years and still in the making.

That’s a mighty long time.

It only took 40 years for Noah working by himself to build the Ark, a lifeboat to save human and animal kind.

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We are talking just about a highway.

It is, however, a kind of ark for it will help keep the Alabama Black Belt afloat if it is ever completed.

These were some of my thoughts as we left a meeting at the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALADOT) with its director, Joe McGinnis, and two of his assistants.

Our Selma delegation included Mayor James Perkins, Jr.; Probate Judge Johnny Jones; Alabama Tombigbee Regional Planning Commission Executive Director John Clyde Riggs; economic development specialists Wayne Vardaman, George Alford and Menzo Driskell; and Reverend F. D. Reese.

We had come concerning the four laning of U.S. Highway 80 from Montgomery to Mississippi.

The plan to four lane U.S. 80 was conceived in the 1950s.

Many a gubernatorial candidate has declared his/her intention to complete the four laning of this highway from Montgomery to Mississippi.

Senator Earl Goodwin of Selma worked on four laning U.S. 80 from the early 1970s to the late 1980s.

I worked at it from the early 1980s to the present.

Yet it is far from complete.

Worse yet, its completion is getting farther away, not closer.

If we view a highway map of the United States, the failure of Interstate 20 to run through the center of the Alabama Black Belt glares out at us.

It runs west to east straight across the entire US for nearly 2,500 miles.

Then it abruptly stops at the state line in Cuba, Alabama, changing directions to travel northerly with I-59 through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham where it separates and runs on to Atlanta and beyond.

It is clear that an intentional decision was made not to continue I-20 through the Alabama Black Belt.

Some people clearly did not want the development which an interstate highway might bring to the central Alabama area.

Our hopes were up as we entered the room.

When we left, our hopes were way down.

The not-so-bad news is ALADOT is actively working on that portion of Highway 80 from Demopolis to the Mississippi line, although the schedule has been pushed back.

The bad news is that ALADOT has ceased all activities, even planning, on that portion of the highway from east of Uniontown to Demopolis.

During this meeting, I heard how one family is holding up construction of the Uniontown portion of US Highway 80.

I had heard rumors that the former mayor of Uniontown, who is also a former state representative, had held up the four laning of U.S. 80 in that area for years because he wanted it to go through rather than around the town.

I always knew that one or even a few persons could not stop a federal highway if the government was truly determined.

The situation soon became clear when one of McGinnis’ assistants said: “There are more needs for highways than the money to construct them.

If people don’t want to cooperate in one area, we just go somewhere else.”

For 50 years, we have not reaped the benefits of a four laned highway in the West Alabama Black Belt on the theory that someone did not cooperate.

That’s way too long.

ALADOT leaders told us that four alternatives had been considered for four laning Highway U.S. 80 in the Uniontown area: (1) go straight through town; (2) go south of town; (3) go way north of town; and (4) go just north of town.

It costs $33-36 million for either alternative one, two or three.

It costs $17 million to go just north of town.

According to them, alternative #4 has been blocked by one family for many years.

It seems that a plantation from slavery time, not just the house but the entire body of land, was declared a historical site.

Alternate route #4 would take a portion of the plantation’s land but not the house.

In essence, one plantation poses a $17 million block to a federal highway.

The previous administration pushed up the schedule for four laning U.S. 80 West.

I remember Don Siegelman stating at a public meeting in Selma two years ago that ALADOT would complete U.S. 80 West, “If I have to get on a bulldozer and do it myself.”

He also wrote a letter to Representative Thad McClammy, chair of the Black Belt Infrastructure Committee, setting forth his commitment.

Now the construction schedule has slid back in one portion and slid clean out of the picture on the other.

As we left the meeting, I said, “Moses and the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

We have been wandering in the U.S. 80 Highway wilderness a lot more than 40 years and the Promise Land is nowhere in sight.”

Since that meeting with ALADOT, I have talked with a number of leaders.

I have written a letter to Governor Riley urging full use of the weight of his leadership on U.S. 80 West.

Some of us will meet in Selma this week in a further attempt to find our way out of this highway wilderness.

It’s been way too long.

Now on to the Daily Diary.

Saturday -I was still in Point Clear at a national conference on energy.

I left and traveled to Thomasville where I had lunch and talked with several citizens.

I returned to Selma and worked into the night.

Sunday -I did Radio Sunday School, Radio Education, Sunday Review and attended Sunday School and Sunday Services.

I talked with Barbara Brown who is recovering from illness.

I did work on a presentation I am scheduled to make on “Fifty years of Brown vs. Board of Education.”

Monday -I completed work on the Brown vs. Board of Education presentation.

I spoke at the funeral of James Gildersleeve, a civil rights pioneer in Selma.

I traveled to Hayneville to attend a Lowndes County Board of Education meeting where Superintendent John Covington mentioned that I helped secure the monies to replace coal-burning furnaces for two schools they were taking bids on.

I talked to Yvette Patterson and others.

I returned to Selma to work into the night on Sketches and other matters.

Tuesday -I completed Sketches and talked to Senator Zeb Little.

I voted before traveling to Tuscaloosa for a midday TV appearance and late evening book signing.

I talked with many persons including Dr. Rhoda Johnson, Dr. Amilcar Shabazz and Judge John England.

In between, I talked with Senator Charles Steele by phone and worked out of his senate office.

I returned to Selma.

Wednesday -I handled many matters and participated in several meetings.

I worked on legislation related to obesity before attending a meeting at Concordia College.

I spoke at a fundraising reception for Democratic District Attorney nominee, Michael Jackson.

I talked to Representative Richard Lindsey, chair of the House Committee that handles the Education Budget and to Senator Larry Means of Gadsden.

I worked into the night.

Thursday -I had breakfast with Selma Mayor James Perkins, Jr. and Wallace Community College President Dr. James Mitchell.

I handled many matters before attending an event at a nursing home in Selma.

I traveled to Gadsden for a book signing where I talked with many citizens including the following: Roger and Roberta Watts; Senator Larry Means and his wife, Karen; Bishop Walt Higgins; and former Gadsden City Council member/mayoral candidate, Robert Avery.

I returned to Selma.

Friday -I met with Wayne Vardaman about economic development.

I met with Josephine Curtis and Barnette Hayes about a number of matters.

I talked with Jackie Thomas, Loretta Moss and Marie Kemp about sickness and death.

I talked with Edna Bryant about her 30th year Class Reunion from Keith High School where I was the Graduation Speaker.

I began writing Sketches and attended the 30th Class Reunion of Keith High School where I made remarks.

EPILOGUE -It never ceases to amaze me how we can make a way out of no way when we really want to do something.

It never ceases to amaze me how we find a way not to do something when we don’t really want to do it.

It is usually a matter of how much those in power want to do it.

The situation with U.S. Highway 80 is just one more example.

It has lasted for 50 years.