Interstate would be lifeline to region

Published 10:55 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

Alabama’s Black Belt could be in for an economic boon.
Tuesday night, I had opportunity to get a good look at the proposed Interstate 85 extension, which would travel nearly 130 miles from Montgomery to Cuba before joining Interstate 20/59.
It’s not very practical to expect this project to be complete before 2030. That would put the members of my generation near retirement, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for our children and our grandchildren.
Dr. Ken Tucker, Mike Grayson and I talked about what could and might not happen during and after the construction process, and we could all agree on two very important things:
1. The potential impact to the Black Belt over a calendar of decades is limitless.
2. We have no idea what’s going to happen 30-plus years from now.
Dr. Tucker raised one very interesting point, that the businesses looking to locate along this Interstate exchange should construction actually take place are likely not in business right now. If they are, they probably operate on a limited basis and won’t be ready to make their big splash for a decade or two.
I think he’s right. Ten years ago, every community was clamoring for an auto parts supplier. One would be nice to have now. But in 35 years or more, do you think the automobile will resemble its 2010 counterpart?
I don’t know.
Mayor Grayson was dead on in saying that one of the most immediate impacts could be tourism dollars. If the Alabama Department of Transportation makes it easier to get to Demopolis, people will come. There’s no doubt.
Scattered along this route are 50-plus homeowners and one business that will have to be relocated. That’s the unfortunate side of construction, especially one of this size.
However, the potential impact of this project is life-changing. Historically, the Black Belt has the highest unemployment rates in the state, which ties directly to lack of job opportunity here.
Understand that much of the rewards the Black Belt may reap from this project are tied to wishful thinking, wild guesses and historical patterns.
But make no mistake, there is ample reason to feel both optimistic and excited about this undertaking, and that’s two emotions Black Belt residents don’t have the opportunity to feel often enough.

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