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Local leaders react to funding for I-85 expansion

REGION-U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby proposed legislation known as the “Highway Bill” last week, which authorizes $286.5 billion in funding for Federal-aid highways, highway safety programs, transit programs, and other purposes. The bill received a great deal of support and passing by a vote of 91 to 4 and now only needs the signature of President George W. Bush to put it into effect.

The passage of the bill is expected go a long way toward creating jobs in rural areas of the South, including the Black Belt. However, until a definite route is presented it is uncertain what the passage of the bill’s direct impact will be on Marengo County.

The project with the most potential to help Marengo County is the expansion of Interstate 85 to connect Montgomery with Meridian by running I-85 to I-20 in Cuba. The bill would allow for $100 million in federal funding to get the project rolling. If the project were to follow the same route as U.S. Highway 80 the Demopolis area would benefit greatly.

Jay Shows, President of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce, said they could only hope the plans do go along with the proposed route.

“From a Chamber of Commerce standpoint, we hope that this project will come close enough to show an impact on the area,” Shows said. “We hope that this project will be a positive for the local economy and help them realize this greater impact.”

On the other hand, if the expansion were to run 20 miles north or south of Highway 80 the results would be uncertain.

The passage of the bill would mean more for the planning stages than the project itself. However, the planning stages are the ones that are the issue at hand. Marengo County Commissioner Max Joiner said if the plans have Marengo County in the cards it would be huge. Joiner said he was pleased to see Shelby keeping an eye out for West Alabama.

“I think the project itself is probably down the road, but it is a great opportunity to have another Interstate on its way to West Alabama,” Joiner said. “I would like to thank Sen. Shelby for keeping us in our plans and helping us along the way.”

Naturally, an interstate system in West Alabama would be one of the first things an industry looking for a place to locate would look for. Joiner said if the project comes together to include Marengo County it would give the area a chance to tap into some of its potential.

“This will certainly make us more attractive to industry,” Joiner said. “An interstate system really opens a community up to more opportunities and makes you more attractive to prospective businesses.”

Like everyone else, Joiner is eager to see where the route will be set. He said he, like other leaders in the area, would be watching closely.

“I am still very interested in the route this project will take,” Joiner said. “We would certainly like to see it come through as much of Marengo County and Perry County and other areas that are close by. It will be interesting to see what comes from the planning stages.”

There has been no time line set for the planning process, however, the allotment of funds is expected to speed the process along.