You may not expect to be stuck in traffic on a Saturday in rural Alabama. However, if you've been up and down Interstate 65, the state's main artery, at any given point and time, it is not unusual.
Chronic delays have inconvenienced Alabama travelers for several years, and this year's Fourth of July holiday weekend is no exception.
As travelers made their way on I-65 to the beaches on the Florida Panhandle and South Alabama, backups plagued the usual bottleneck points along I-65, including near Alabaster and Clanton between Birmingham and Montgomery.
The issue drew the ire of Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Thursday.
Anyone who claims we do not need a plan to six-lane I-65 from the Tennessee Line to the Gulf of Mexico does not travel on I-65. I have sat immobile for the past hour. It’s past time to end this problem, and that is why my office is working with legislators to create a plan. pic.twitter.com/aWkkqFNahd— Will Ainsworth (@willainsworthAL) June 29, 2023
"Anyone who claims we do not need a plan to six-lane I-65 from the Tennessee Line to the Gulf of Mexico does not travel on I-65," he tweeted. "I have sat immobile for the past hour. It's past time to end this problem, and that is why my office is working with legislators to create a plan."
Despite those overtures, Gov. Kay Ivey has batted down those critiques.
"Who doesn't want to widen 65?" Ivey said in a statement to AL.com, the website for the once-daily, now-defunct Birmingham News owned by Alabama Media Group, a subsidiary of New York billionaires Donald and Samuel Newhouse's Advance Publications. "The truth is, there are transportation infrastructure needs all over this state. Yes, we are addressing them quicker than ever, primarily because I championed the Rebuild Alabama Act, which by the way, has already led to needed 65 and other instate improvements. So, yes, I agree that we should widen 65, but I operate in the bounds of reality, and I recognize needs in all parts of the state, including the county roads and city streets that Alabama citizens use everyday to get to work, to school and to the grocery store."
Throughout the Saturday travel day, delayed commuters on I-65 took to social media to voice their frustrations.
#BREAKING I-65 South heading to Hoover is seeing major delays this morning after an accident/incident just before the I-459 exit at MM 252.— Jen Cardone (@Card1Reports) July 1, 2023
EXPECT DELAYS around Hoover.@HooverPD @CityofHoover @ALEAprotects @algo_bhm pic.twitter.com/yp9gyqPr42
Spent time in that mess myself this week! Why are we spending $7 billion in northern bypass when I-65 is the lifeblood of our tourism industry? https://t.co/BwmtLcPB5u— Patrick McWhorter (@pmcwhorter) July 1, 2023
If possible avoid I-65 South leaving Birmingham. It’s a parking lot 🤦🏽♀️ pic.twitter.com/bH1r6XwSib— D. Hawkins ✝️💜🐘 (@MsDanaKay) June 30, 2023
During Friday's broadcast of Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) criticized the Ivey administration's transportation priorities.
According to the Baldwin County Republican lawmaker, the Ivey ALDOT's decision to prioritize nearly $1 billion for the West Alabama Corridor, the last phase of a four-lane route between Mobile and Tuscaloosa, over I-65 was part of the problem.
"This is simply a matter of setting priorities, and the priority needs to be where the congestion is," he said. "I say that, and I'm sure you and your listeners are going, 'Of course, that's the answer.' It's almost nonsensical that it would be going anywhere else. Yet, you see the Governor and the transportation director moving forward on spending almost $1 billion in state-only money, no federal match, state-only money. And you have to say, why? There's no population there. There's no congestion there. Their argument is that it is for economic development. But let's take care of the roadways we've got. Let's take care of the congestion we've got, and let's fix [Interstate] 65. Let's fix [Interstate] 10. Let's get some of these areas where we are seeing chronic backups fixed. That's why I'm so excited about Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth's stance on this. Senator [Garlan] Gudger has been a big proponent of working on 65, as well."
"Listen, you're seeing backups in Clanton tied to the condo check-out time in Orange Beach," Elliott added. "That ought to tell you something. And unfortunately, we don't have a governor who is willing to prioritize where people are, and instead is off remaking West Alabama, again, with state-only money and absolutely zero federal match is not smart."
Jeff Poor is the editor in chief of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email jeff.poor@1819News.com or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.
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