Highway 80 project poised to get underway

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2005

Governor Bob Riley announced Wednesday that construction is set to begin on the state Department of Transportation’s ambitious Highway 80 expansion project.

A public statement from Riley’s office stated that by the end of May, work will have begun in Sumter County to expand a five-mile stretch of 80 to four lanes. The expansion will run from just across the Marengo County line to the intersection of 80 and state highway 28 West, south of the community of Coatopa.

Riley announced that the project will cost $27.4 million, the amount of the project’s lowest bid, offered to the Alabama DOT by R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. of Bessemer. Construction is expected to be completed in Fall of 2007. The project will include a new road bed, a bridge over the Tombigbee River, and four relief bridges in the area’s flood plain.

“This is the single largest non-interstate construction job taking place in Alabama,” Governor Riley said.

“It’s important not only for economic development in the area but also to make Highway 80 safer.”

Although the expansion will take place in Sumter County, the expansion promises rewards for communities across the Black Belt.

“This has been talked about for 20 years,” state Senator Bobby Singleton, who represents both Sumter and Marengo, said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “This is not a cure for the cancer, but we certainly welcome the investment and help it offers our industry recruiting channels… I think this is a big development for Sumter County and the entire Black Belt. I hope it will have a huge impact.”

According to Singleton, the expansion is another piece of the increasingly completed puzzle that should help lure big business into the region.

“This will open up the East-West corridor and make it much easier for merchants and transportation to get in and out,” he said. “With the speculative buildings in place in those counties and this expanding of Highway 80, we have the necessary infrastructure and are ready-and-waiting for industry to arrive.”

Demopolis mayor Cecil Williamson says that the expansion has been a topic of conversation in several Black Belt Action Commission meetings, and that the obvious benefits for Demopolis mean it has had the city’s overwhelming support.

“We’re thinking regionally,” she said. “This makes it easier for students here to get to Livingston to attend UWA, easier for residents of Sumter County to come to Demopolis and shop…we have greeted this project very enthusiastically.”

Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce president Jay Shows says that while he’s not sure overall traffic in the area will increase substantially. The expansion is important for the greater ease with which vehicles can travel through the region.

“Obviously it makes Highway 80 a more efficient route,” he said. “It always benefits business to have more efficient transportation.”

Of course, there will be benefits on the other side of the Marengo/Sumter line as well. York mayor Carolyn Mitchell-Gosa hopes that increased traffic in the area will eventually lead to better things for her city as well.

“I think this will certainly bring traffic this way. [Travellers] are going to have to have supplies,” she says. “If we can get ’em here, we’ll sell them something… I’m just totally excited.”

Williamson says that while the 80 expansion is terrific news, it may be time to begin working towards another project critical for the long-term future of Demopolis

“80 is on the map. It’s charted, funded, it’s going to happen,” she says. “But it would behoove this area to now push for the expansion of Highway 43…it’s charted right now north of 20/59, but they don’t have it south of 20/59. It should be, and it should come straight through here, from the interstate through Eutaw and Demopolis down to Linden and Thomasville.

“Now that this one’s done, we need to start a bandwagon and work on that,” she adds. “If Demopolis was situated at the corner of an expanded 43 and 80, it would be an awesome place for us to be in.”

For now, though, Gosa says it’s OK to dream a little about what positive projects like the 80 expansion will mean to the region.

“As for what businesses might locate here, who knows?” she says. “We’ve been dreaming about this for a long time and we can dream as big as we want to dream. I’m just very optimistic about things.”