Interstate extension could be ‘enormous’

Published 11:02 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

David Webber, an engineer with Volkert and Associates, reviews a map with those in attendance of last night's public meeting.

A proposed 120-plus mile extension of Interstate 85 could pass just south of Demopolis, bringing with it the potential for an economic boom.
“The potential is enormous,” Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson said. “When you look at history and patterns, economic growth tends to follow Interstate construction. You don’t see it as much along highways the way you once did. Being near the interstate is an important piece of the puzzle.”
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, scattering development opportunities along the way.
“Economic development is only development if it’s new business, recruiting new business and industry and people to the area,” said Dr. Ken Tucker, a Marengo County commissioner and Dean of the Business College at the University of West Alabama. “What you don’t want to happen is for it to cannibalize the businesses on Highway 80.”
While Grayson was optimistic about the business and industrial potential of a major thoroughfare’s crossing through Demopolis, he suspected the most immediate impact may be by way of tourism and tax dollars.
“What we want in terms of tourism is for people to come to Demopolis not through Demopolis,” he said. “Right now, there’s not an easy way to get here. (The proposed extension) changes all that. All of a sudden, Demopolis is a pretty attractive stop on this route to Mississippi.”
The preferred route of the project runs south of Selma from Montgomery before turning north of Uniontown, dropping back south of Demopolis and traveling west, ending just north of Cuba.
Tucker added that, should business and industry follow tourists, the opportunity to improve existing infrastructure would be felt across the Black Belt.
“You increase your population base,” he said. “More people means more tax dollars for the city and county which is put back into roads, parks and improving whatever infrastructure that may exist, which, in turn, improves the overall quality of life.”
Construction is not likely to begin before 2015 and could last until 2035 under the most ideal conditions.

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