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Beltline’s 3rd phase may be moved up

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Beltline Road’s long- awaited widening project inched forward last week, with state transportation officials agreeing to begin preliminary work on the last phase a year early.

The state will begin purchasing right of way to widen the Beltline between Danville Road and U.S. 31 in 2008 instead of 2009.

If design plans for the stretch are complete earlier than expected, the state might begin utility construction in 2008 or 2009 instead of 2010 or later.

Area lawmakers said the earlier start date increases the likelihood that drivers will travel six lanes instead of four on all of Beltline Road.

Some state projections earlier this year put widening of the third phase of the Beltline as far out as 2013.

Area lawmakers said they were concerned that if left uncompleted, the four-lane stretch from Danville Road to U.S. 31 would bottleneck traffic from the six-lane sections.

Lawmakers pushed Gov. Bob Riley and Alabama Department of Transportation Director Joe McInnes to complete the project earlier. They asked the state to at least begin work on the last phase before the end of 2010.

The state agreed.

McInnes said he and DOT Deputy Director Don Vaughn met with Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, about the project in Montgomery on Wednesday.

“We don’t want something to slow us down on Phase 3,” Hammon said. “We don’t want to have the money sitting there and have the contracts ready to go, and then have some problem crop up to hold things up.”

The possibility of a slowdown is real for several reasons. Tight funding for road projects is a statewide problem, according to McInnes and lawmakers.

The cyclical change in leadership at DOT is another factor.

McInnes said he and Vaughn reviewed Beltline plans and looked at when federal funds become available for state projects.

“There is a sequence we must follow on these projects based on federal allocations,” McInnes said. Federal appropriations are critical to state projects with most of the money Alabama gets for road projects arriving as federal appropriations.

McInnes said yearly allocations are never enough at one time to complete a project with high-ticket costs.

Beltline Road, Phases 1, 2 and 3 evolved for that reason, he said.

“We must try to be fair to the whole state,” McInnes said.

Orr said it is important to get work started on the third phase during the current administration. The last year of Gov. Bob Riley’s second and final term is 2010. Since Alabama’s governors appoint the transportation directors, the position changes when a new governor takes office. Orr said he hopes to move the project up even more on the state schedule.

If right-of-way purchasing is successful ahead of schedule, Orr said, it may be possible to begin utility construction earlier, too. “These are low-ticket items that will not require a lot of money to do,” Orr said.

Hammon said it is important to push for full completion because of the growth of Decatur and Morgan County.

“Traffic problems on that road have already held us back in the past,” he said. “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.”

Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, said it is important to push the project forward. He recalls attempts to finish widening the road as far back as former Gov. Don Siegelman’s administration.

Widening of Beltline Road Phase 1 between Gordon Terry Parkway and Danville Road should be complete by mid-2008.

Work should begin by March on Phase 2 widening between Gordon Terry Parkway (Alabama 24) and Alabama 20.

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