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I-565 extension, Memphis-to-Atlanta route on 5-year plan

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Imagine a road system that lets you head west from Decatur through Lawrence County toward Memphis with hardly a red light along the way.

Think about a route from Athens to Huntsville or the area’s next mega shopping or industrial complex without stop-and-go traffic on two-lane roads. Believe that a Decatur Veterans Parkway project is more than just a vague dream.

The push for a coordinated road system linking Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties is not new, just often postponed because of funding shortages and changes in state transportation priorities.

But local leaders are cautiously optimistic that some of the area’s highest priority projects may actually get under way. That’s because of where the projects rank on the state’s latest five-year plan for transportation in 2008-12.

“There is a lot of work that goes into transportation projects that people never see,” said Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, now in his second term representing Morgan and Limestone counties. “People have been working on these projects for years, some long before I was elected the first time.”

Hammon said the area’s transportation committee, chambers of commerce, lawmakers, regional planners and members of Congress have been involved in the push. Their goal, they say, is road development that draws economic projects and enables the area to thrive.

Sometimes the big projects cross county lines. Currently, some of the biggest in Limestone County involve Interstate 65.

Limestone projects

Projects include an I-65 interchange at Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road east of Tanner, tapped as a TVA megasite by U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville.

They also include the extension of Interstate 565 from U.S. 31 and Alabama 20 to the I-65/I-565 interchange.

Early work on the TVA megasite project should begin in the next few weeks. Preliminary I-565 extension work is set for July 2008.

In Lawrence and Limestone counties, the push to complete the Memphis-to-Atlanta corridor on a state and federal level means development possibilities that affect those counties and Morgan as well.

The long-sought Decatur-Hartselle bypass (Veterans Parkway) project that travels along part of the same route is now on the state plan. Most construction on the bypass is years away with uncertain funding sources. Preliminary planning on a two-mile stretch is scheduled for October in the state plan.

Hammon said keeping both the I-565 extension and Veterans Parkway on the state priority list is a tremendous victory.

“When you see that, you know that people are working to keep them there,” he said. “They told us we could not have both because they are so expensive; we kept both on our list because we have to have them.”

Trips to Washington as well as Montgomery by area leaders to push for better roads are part of that process, he said. Reps. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, and Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro, were involved in the transportation strategy planning, he said.

Cramer, Aderholt help

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, said Cramer has for years earmarked funds in the federal budget to use when the area’s long-term road projects finally got under way. U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, helped as well.

Butler, whose district includes Madison County and parts of Limestone, said he sees strong commitments from Gov. Bob Riley to follow through with plans for a megasite.

More pushing needed

Butler said his next push will be in two areas that did not make the current five-year plan. They include widening an already congested U.S. 72 from Huntsville to Athens, and an accident-prone stretch of U.S. 72 from Athens to the Lauderdale County line.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said Veterans Parkway, beyond the planning stages, is still “a long way off,” but he’s glad to see progress. Road projects like the TVA megasite and the parkway are not only needed by drivers, but also necessary to keep the area thriving, he said.

Dukes said it is important for area leaders to concentrate on their goals for the highest priority projects and not let up. Dukes used the long, frustrating push to complete Beltline Road in Decatur as an example.

“I was just looking through a stack of 20 to 25 pictures with political figures along the Beltline back to the Siegelman administration,” Dukes said. “The Beltline is just the same now as it was then in many areas.

“We just have to push for definite decisions and be diligent if they are going to happen,” he said.

Lawrence County 5-year road plan

Decatur-Hartselle bypass (Veterans Parkway)

n Planning and engineering on 2.3-mile section from Memphis-to-Atlanta Corridor to Alabama 20, interchange at Memphis-to-Atlanta Corridor. Begins Oct. 1, 2007. Cost $1.2 million.

  • Planning and engineering on 5.2-mile section from Alabama 20 to Alabama 24, interchange at Alabama 20. Begins July 1, 2010. Cost $1.2 million.

    Memphis-to-Atlanta Corridor — from Alabama 20 west of Decatur to I-565 in Huntsville

  • Right-of-way acquisition on 22-mile section begins Oct. 1, 2011. Cost $20.7 million.

    Limestone County 5-year road plan

    TVA megasite area — Interchange on I-65 at Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road (Limestone County 24) east of Tanner

  • Adjustment of utilities begins Oct. 1, 2007. Cost $591,000.

  • Bidding and interchange construction begins Dec. 7, 2007. Cost $8.7 million.

  • Lighting installations begin Sept. 1, 2008 ($104,000), and Nov. 6, 2009 ($900,000).

    Extension of Interstate 565 — From I-65 to U.S. 31 and Alabama 20

  • Preliminary planning begins July 1, 2008. Cost $3.2 million.

  • Right-of-way preparation begins Oct. 1, 2011. Cost $10.9 million.

  • Construction, paving and bridgework begin Jan. 27, 2012. Cost $62.7 million.

  • Utilities adjustments begin Jan. 1, 2012. Cost $2.3 million.

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