For nearly 100 years, U.S. Highway 45 has run from Mobile to the Alabama-Mississippi state line, running parallel to the old Mobile & Ohio Railroad, from downtown Mobile, through Prichard and Citronelle to the state line.
Today, it roughly follows the same path as it did throughout the last century, but it has long been neglected by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), even though the State of Mississippi has four-laned its 265-mile segment from its border with Alabama to its border with Tennessee.
In the early 1990s, the Alabama Legislature mandated the roadway's widening after a previous fuel tax increase was passed. However, the legislature came back and removed the requirement from the statute.
Over the last few years, as the accident death toll on the stretch of highway has increased, local officials have pleaded with ALDOT officials to reconsider the project, but those officials and the Ivey administration have seemingly ignored the calls.
ALDOT has broad discretion over the highway improvement projects it prioritizes. However, would the Alabama Legislature consider stripping some of that power away from the agency and mandating its highway projects, especially as critics question the Ivey ALDOT's decision to build the West Alabama Corridor ahead of widening Interstate 65 and other projects?
During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," State Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle), a proponent of improving U.S. Highway 45, noted that it had been done in the past and that "something has got to give" with ALDOT under the leadership of director John Cooper.
"You would think that that would not be needed, but we've been proven wrong, you know, with this administration and ALDOT," he said. "They have shown us that they are going to do what they want to do. We're going to have to think outside the box and going to have to look. There's been a lot of speculation that there were going to be some changes at ALDOT. We were kind of hopeful and waiting to see what was going to happen there. Something has got to give."
"This road has been neglected for too long," Stringer continued. "As you said, I think it was 1994 when they passed the previous gas tax before the last one — that was one of the stipulations that they would address [U.S. Highway] 45. I think they either came back the next year or the year after that and took that out. Back to square one again. You would think that they would start to try to acquire some of the land and start prepping for the future. That's the problem, poor planning in my opinion from ALDOT. You don't just all of a sudden one day decide you're going to four-lane 57-58 miles. You start prepping for it. You start purchasing the land and working the land agreement stuff out, and getting that part done."
Stringer rejected claims that widening the long-beleaguered roadway was "too expensive" because it would only get more expensive as time proceeded.
"Are we going to use that excuse forever?" he added. "We don't use it in other parts of the state. Why are we using it on Highway 45?"
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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.
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