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Decatur OKs study of highway interchange

By Evan Belanger 340-2442

The Decatur City Council is moving quickly to develop more than 3,000 acres in Limestone County.

Monday, the council unanimously approved a measure to spend up to $75,000 on a study to justify placing a controlled-access interchange on Alabama 20. The highway runs the length of the city's annex in Limestone County and provides an important link between Decatur and Madison County.

Mayor Don Kyle said an interchange on the highway will make the area more appealing to developers, especially as military jobs relocate to Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal as part of the government's Base Realignment and Closure program.

Analysts predict BRAC will bring thousands of jobs to the Tennessee Valley and more than $500 million in additional income. Kyle proposes pushing for development of the Limestone annex to capture for Decatur portions of the BRAC growth, which the government says will be fully implemented by 2011.

Kyle also said the interchange will improve traffic flow on Alabama 20 and a second interchange in the future will open even more of the property to development.

But the road project won't be easy to complete. The Alabama Department of Transportation requires the latest study be completed before it will consider approving an interchange at the proposed location where Bibb Garrett Road meets the highway.

"We have to prove it can be done safely," Kyle said.

Even if the interchange can be done safely, DOT does not have money to pay for the project, meaning either the city or the federal government will have to pitch in. But without firm commitments from potential developers, gaining funding for the project will be a hard sell for city officials.

"It's kind of a Catch 22," Kyle said. "They won't want to fund it unless they know a developer wants to move in, but developers won't want to move in unless they know the interchange will be built."

Kyle first unveiled his plan for developing the annex in an address to the Decatur Rotary Club on Sept. 10. The council approved later that day spending $15,000 to study what types of businesses would likely be successful in the area.

The plan also calls for a third study to investigate building several side roads both north and south of the highway, making the property more accessible to development.

Kyle said he hopes the council will consider funding for that study as early as next month, even if funding for the project is not immediately available.

As to when actual earth moving will start, Kyle said, it depends on who wants to develop the property and how long DOT's evaluation takes.

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