I-85 extension may come near Demopolis

Published 3:26 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Allen Bishop looks at a geographic information system which shows him the proximity of the proposed Interstate 85 extension to his property. -- Jason Cannon/The Demopolis Times

A proposed extension of Interstate 85 from Montgomery to Mississippi could pass approximately four miles south of Demopolis, should the preferred path come to fruition.

The route, designated by Volkert & Associates, Inc. — a consulting firm who assisted the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) with an environmental study of the extension — covers more than 126 miles and connects Montgomery, Lowndes, Dallas, Perry, Marengo and Sumter counties before ending in York at Interstate 20/59.

Maps posted last night at a public hearing at the Demopolis Civic Center showed those in attendance that the preferred route runs south of Selma from Montgomery before turning north of Uniontown, dropping back south of Demopolis and traveling west, ending just north of Cuba at 20/59.

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“I would like to see it take more northern route,” said Ken Tucker, a Marengo County Commissioner and dean of the University of West Alabama Business College.

“There’s a lot of considerations you have to make in a project like this — environmental studies, social and economic impact and many others — but I think a more northern route would provide a greater impact to the cities we care about: Selma, Uniontown, Demopolis and Livingston and York.”

One of the proposed alternative routes travels north through Autauga County and crosses into Dallas County just north of Selma. The second half of the route, which picks up at Bogue Chitto Creek, is identical to the preferred route.

Buddy Covington, environmental department head with Volkert, said the preferred route was determined by taking into account the least amount of negative environmental impact along the course.

“You also have to look at constructability and, if it is constructed in parts, which route would have the most usable segments,” he said.

Currently, 52 homes and one business lie on the nearly 130-mile east-to-west stretch, which would have to be moved or purchased from the owners during construction.

The estimated cost of the project is $2.369 billion, but the timetable for construction is even more daunting.

“Best-case scenario, from today, we could get started in about five years,” Covington said, noting the five-year construction forecast meant that funding and land would have to be immediately available and the process up to construction would have to run flawlessly.

Covington also noted that the extension would likely be tackled in phases, which means construction could take, at a minimum, 15 to 20 years.

The next step for Volkert and ALDOT will be filing their report and public comments with the Federal Registry and beginning their work on detailed study.

The environmental study process, Covington estimated, should be complete by Spring 2012 before ALDOT must clear its next significant hurdle: funding.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby has already secured $100 million for the project through a highway bill in 2005. He committed another $22.5 million in 2009 through the Omnibus Appropriations Act.

Note: In the Weekend edition of the Demopolis Times, we will take a look at potential local and economic impact of the Interstate 85 extension through the Black Belt region.</p>