THOMASVILLE — Amidst concerns from some state officials over projected costs, multiple West Alabama mayors met in Thomasville on Tuesday to argue for the value of the West Alabama Corridor project.
In her 2021 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the state would provide a four-lane corridor from Thomasville to Tuscaloosa. The West Alabama Corridor project will provide interstate connectivity to rural counties that currently lack a four-lane-to-interstate highway, ultimately creating a four-lane connection between Mobile and Tuscaloosa, according to Ivey. The project is being paid for with Rebuild Alabama Act funds, a state gas tax increase passed in 2019 by the legislature.
"Governor Ivey in my opinion when she announced this initiative she was doing so in a way to lift up this region, lift up West Alabama from the Shoals to Mobile," Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day said at a press conference on Tuesday. "Every Governor that campaigned for office since the '50s…everybody from Gov. Patterson to Big Jim Folsom to you name it all the way up came over to this side of the state and said, 'If you'll elect me, what am I gonna do? I'm going to build that highway. I'm going to make sure we have a West Alabama Highway.' Well, Gov. Ivey put her words into action. That's all it was because every Governor that has held that seat has made the promise. She kept her promise. She told us she was going to do it and she did it. Now it's moving forward. The impact that this highway will have on West Alabama is unconscionable."
Critics of the project say it will cost too much and that funds could go towards widening I-65, which has higher traffic numbers. The initial cost estimate of the project was $760 million.
State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) questioned an ALDOT official at a recent Joint Transportation Committee meeting about how much the state would eventually borrow to pay for the West Alabama Corridor.
"My concern during Joint Transportation was: Hey, are we spending and tying up a bunch of state-only money for a project with dubious efficacy, if you will, OK, in West Alabama? When I sat in the audience the other night and listened to President Trump talk about [I-65] being high on his priority list, I got very concerned," Elliott told 1819 News in August. "That concern was you have a minimum of an 80/20 match with 20% coming from the state minimum. I thought, gosh, the size and scope of an I-65 project if Governor Ivey and her administration have essentially maxed out the credit card on other projects, specifically on something like the West Alabama Corridor, which we think is going to be well above $1 billion if not $1.3 billion. How do you come up with that match? What a travesty it would be to have the lieutenant governor negotiate something like that with President Trump, and we end up in a spot where we couldn't take him up on the offer."
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth recently said he supported prioritizing expanding I-65 before starting "an entirely new project like the West Alabama Corridor, which will cost roughly $1 billion before completion and have a fraction of the travelers."
However, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox told reporters after the press conference, "This is not about one project over another."
"Both need to be done for Alabama. Let's complete this project and then find a way through Rebuild Alabama and the Infrastructure Act to take care of I-65," Maddox said.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said expanding Highway 43 would provide an alternative route north beside Interstate 65 for shipments coming from the Port of Mobile.
"It's not an either-or when it comes to 65 or 43," Stimpson told the media on Tuesday. "It needs to be both, and there's funding mechanisms for both, and you need to explore those opportunities to do both of them. I would say if all you're doing is you're putting all your eggs in 65 if you have some kind of challenge, wrecks, whatever it may be on 65, it just shuts everything down. Having an alternative route to me is important. It's like having two fire escapes. You've got to be able to do more than go I-65."
Stimpson said, "You can get a lot done in the next two or three years" on the West Alabama Corridor project while Ivey is in office."
"It's just like being the Mayor. There's no way for me to predict what will happen, what will continue or won't continue going forward. If you get some additional buy-in from some elected officials and from citizens, then you start creating that momentum, and then you can continue on with it," Stimpson added. "I've talked to some other elected officials about it. Our conversation, from my perspective, was that we needed an alternative route and that we needed to be doing both projects. I think that the Lt. Gov. is looking at that also. What he's trying to do is determine what is the wisest use of the money and how do we get it done. That's why we need to have an ongoing dialogue where it's all understood how the funding can work and how we can get the most done for the dollars that are spent."
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.
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