A contract related to the design and construction of a major highway expansion in west Alabama is back on track after a 1.5-month delay by some lawmakers.
Gov. Kay Ivey signed this week a $74.9 million design-build contract for the initial stages of the West Alabama Corridor project, a proposed 75-mile, four-lane highway from Tuscaloosa to Thomasville. The project will create four lanes all the way to Mobile.
Alabama Department of Transportation officials have said the total project, announced by Ivey in 2021, could cost more than $1.1 billion.
It will be funded through bonds financed by revenue from the gas-tax increase lawmakers approved in 2019. Some elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, have questioned committing so much state money to the largely rural project when there are more high-traffic needs in the state.
In early September, Legislative Contract Review Committee member Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, moved to delay that contract amid funding questions and concerns. The committee can delay contracts up to 45 days. In response, Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, delayed other ALDOT contracts for work in other parts of the state.
Ivey on Monday signed all the contracts. In a written statement, ALDOT officials said it’s good news for taxpayers that design work for the remainder of the West Alabama Corridor project can move forward.
“When legislators overwhelmingly approved the Rebuild Alabama Act, they required ALDOT to make transportation investments that enhance economic development activities, ‘with priority given to projects in economically underserved areas of the state,'” the statement said. “The West Alabama Highway is a prime example of what is envisioned by the Rebuild Alabama law. Rebuild Alabama provides the funding that will allow us to complete the West Alabama Highway more quickly, efficiently and for less cost.
“… The West Alabama Highway will open some of the state’s most rural communities to economic opportunities, improve safety and connect rural Alabamians to jobs, medical care and a better quality of life.”
Ainsworth, a likely 2026 candidate for governor and proponent of expanding I-65 through Alabama, earlier this month told Alabama Daily News he’s supportive of the West Alabama Corridor, but thinks at least some federal money should be used.
He also said he could list about 20 projects that “make a lot more sense from a business standpoint and return on investment for the state.”
Proponents of the project, including local elected and business leaders at a press conference last week, said it will be an economic boon for an area that needs state investments.
“We all know that infrastructure investment is the first step toward economic development success,” said Kyle South, a former lawmaker who’s now president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “Not having those assets limits, if not eliminates, the possibility of growth and prosperity. Our message today is simple: we want the West Alabama Highway project to move forward without any further delay.”