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Beltline project is back on track

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Road widening is back on track for a high-traffic section of Beltline Road that last week seemed to drop out of the state's master plan.

As it turns out, scheduled widening of the busy Danville Road to U.S. 31 section of Beltline Road was never really off the state's five-year transportation plan. It was just "hiding" under an incorrect label.

The real target start date to widen that part of the Beltline to six lanes is fiscal 2010.

"Apparently if you look back at the plan, the wording is included under the heading for Decatur-Hartselle Bypass," Alabama Department of Transportation spokesman Tony Harris said.

Work on the section of Decatur-Hartselle Bypass that included the Danville Road language won't begin until 2013.

"That means there will not be a large gap between the end of Phase 2 and the beginning of Phase 3," Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. "That is what we were hoping for."

"This is a relief," Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said. "Traffic problems on that road have already held us back in the past. We're trying to move into the high-tech market that Huntsville is already in. We don't need to leave that road half finished for years."

Hammon said Jeff Rabren, a member of Gov. Bob Riley's staff, called him Monday. "He said it was a mistake," Hammon said. "The project is still online."

Local officials were dismayed last week when the Alabama Department of Transportation released a draft of its five-year plan with no heading for the Danville Road to U.S. 31 portion of the Beltline.

Widening is already under way for a section of Beltline Road between Gordon Terry Parkway and Danville Road, with completion expected by mid-2008. Work is set to begin in January on widening the Beltline between Gordon Terry Parkway (Alabama 24) and Alabama 20.

Hammon and Orr said they were concerned that, if left uncompleted, the four-lane Danville Road to U.S. 31 part of the road would become a bottleneck for traffic from the six-lane sections. Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, agreed.

The lawmakers also talked Monday to Deputy Transportation Director Don Vaughn, the state's chief highway engineer, who explained the error.

"I appreciate their moving on this," Orr said. "This is an important project we do not need to delay."

Orr said he will meet Wednesday with Riley and Transportation Director Joe McInnes about road projects.

DOT's Tony Harris said five-year plans change every year and sometimes errors need correcting.

"Remember this is a draft five-year plan," Harris said. "When we look at it some more, there may be other areas we need to adjust."

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