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Citizens updated on road projects

There were better times than last weekend for the Alabama Department of Transportation to start a major resurfacing project on U.S. Highway 80 through Demopolis.

In fact, it’s doubtful that ALDOT could have picked a worse time to scrape off layers of asphalt from the city’s main thoroughfare than the final few days of Christmas on the River.

“Had someone asked us to,” ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris told Demopolis residents Thursday, “we could have worked around the Christmas on the River weekend.”

“You mean had the (Demopolis Area) Chamber (of Commerce) called, you would have pulled that road equipment off the streets?” Chamber president Jay Shows asked.

“We could have considered it,” Harris responded.

“Then we’ll be calling you this time next year,” Shows said.

The Chamber invited Harris to speak at its 12@12 Luncheon Thursday at Napoleon’s Restaurant on Washington Street. There, he updated around a dozen residents and business leaders about the ongoing projects on U.S. 80, U.S. Highway 43 and the distant prospect of Interstate 85 extending to the Mississippi line.

“Transportation is one of the best investments we can make for the growth of this state,” Harris said, alluding to the possibilities for economic development that accompany wide new roadways.

The U.S. 80 project, “on the schedule we’re on right now,” will be complete by 2011, Harris said.

The U.S. 80 project, Harris said, is divided into three stages. The first one, which has already dotted the Black Belt with orange-and-white barrells from Selma to Demopolis, is the largest non-Interstate project in the state, Harris said.

Its price-tag weighs in at around $25 milllion, he added.

The bidding process on three other stages will be spread throughout the next two years. The total investment, Harris said, will run about $100 million.

The project’s overall goal is to make U.S. 80 a four-lane road from Montgomery to the state line.

And “closing the gaps” along that stretch is not just an economic development-minded project.

“In many instances, this can save lives,” he said, referring to two-lane stretches where motorists take chances to pass slow drivers, and sometimes pay with their lives.

One stretch of U.S. 43, he said, has remained elusive to the widening project: Uniontown.

He said negotiations over the rights-of-way have moved slowly, and the department has more or less agreed to wait on that short span.

“You need to teach them how to spell ’eminent domain,'” one attendee interjected, referring to the constitutional power to seize land for public works projects like highways and dams.

Though he admitted he’d not been briefed as well on work planned on U.S. 43, Harris gave as many details as he was able.

He said that route, which runs the length of Alabama from north to south, should begin in the Black Belt region around 2007.