State now says Beltline won't be ready till 2013
5-year plan pushes back widening project's completion date; local officials cry foul
By Evan Belanger
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The state project to widen Beltline Road from four lanes to six lanes likely won't be completed until after 2013, according to a new report.
The Alabama Department of Transportation released Monday its five-year plan for all state road projects.
The plan pushed up by several months a $3 million project to widen a lightly developed portion of Beltline Road from Alabama 20 to Gordon Terry Parkway. But it pushed back an $11 million project to widen a heavily developed portion of Beltline Road from Danville Road to U.S. 31.
That project is now scheduled for fiscal 2013. DOT District 1 Engineer Johnny Harris said work could start as early as 2012 if funding is available.
"The five-year plan is revisited annually, so this could still come up earlier, but that's where it's scheduled for now," Harris said.
That means it could be as late as 2014 before the state fully completes the project to widen the busy transit route, which more than 38,000 vehicles travel daily.
Work to widen Beltline Road from Gordon Terry Parkway to Danville Road is already well under way and is expected to be completed in the middle of next year at an estimated cost of $6 million.
DOT originally indicated work on all three portions would at least be started by the end of 2008.
Federal, state and local officials have been discussing the widening project since early 2004.
In response to the DOT announcement, local officials cried foul Tuesday, vowing to do everything in their power to move the final phase of the project to a closer date.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he spent much of Tuesday discussing the matter with DOT officials. He made appointments for next week with Gov. Bob Riley and Transportation Director Joe McInnes to lobby for an earlier completion date.
"This is not acceptable," he said of the five-year plan. "I'm going to do everything I can to get this back on track."
Mayor Don Kyle said the project's delay could slow economic development near U.S. 31 and Beltline Road, where The Crossings of Decatur Shopping Center is being constructed.
"It will slow your travel time, and if travel time could be spent as shopping time, then it may impact revenues," he said. "I don't know if the delay of this project will delay growth in that area immediately, but I suspect it will retard it the longer time goes by."
Both Orr and Kyle predicted traffic congestion will concentrate in the busy areas between Danville Road and U.S. 31 once work on the northern portions of Beltline Road is complete.
"Where it goes from a six-lane to a four-lane, we're funneling people into that narrow stretch," Orr said. "If that happens, we're setting the stage for a very large problem."
With state road tax revenues down and construction costs up — a result of higher fuel prices — state and federal officials are searching for alternative means of funding road projects.
Riley ruled out higher gasoline taxes to make up the difference. Others have suggested toll roads.
Beltline widening timeline
1974, city officials begin campaign to four-lane Beltline Road.
1978, the Alabama Department of Transportation spends $3.1 million to four-lane Beltline Road.
1997, city officials discuss making Beltline Road a controlled-access highway.
1999, state Transportation Director Mack Roberts says Beltline Road is not in the state’s plan, so city officials start campaign to widen the road to six lanes.
Aug. 2004, DOT officials announce plan to widen Beltline Road will be delayed for at least a few months.
Oct. 2004, DOT officials announce project will be delayed until February or March 2005.
Sept. 2005, Transportation bill passes Congress with money for Beltline Road, but state officials say plans to proceed with the project are not ready.
Nov. 2005, Gov. Bob Riley says work will start on Beltline Road by spring 2006.
Nov. 2006, Riley signs contract for first phase of widening to begin.
Jan. 2007, state says Phase 1 of project will extend from Gordon Terry Parkway (Alabama 24) to Danville Road, Phase 2 will extend from Danville Road to U.S. 31 and Phase 3 will extend from Gordon Terry Parkway to Alabama 20. All phases are to be started by the end of 2008.
March 2007, construction begins on Phase 1.
Sept. 2007, state revises five-year plan, pushing work on Phase 3 up to January 2008 and Phase 2 back to fiscal year 2013.
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