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West Alabama Corridor and I-65 expansion equally important, Ivey and Britt say

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — While some Alabama lawmakers remain divided on funding the West Alabama Corridor Project – a split that is currently holding up $112 million in transportation projects – Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday reaffirmed her support for prioritizing the project and seeing it to completion, calling it “the right thing to do.” 

“The bottom line is I’m the governor of all the people, including those in the Black Belt and in west Alabama,” Ivey told Alabama Daily News on Tuesday. “That area is the only part of the state that does not have full-lane access to the interstate, so it’s the right thing to do and we’re going to press on with expanding U.S. Highway 43 into a four lane from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.”

Gov. Kay Ivey speaks to the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery on Sept. 19.

Separately, in a recent interview on WBRC, U.S. Sen. Katie Britt also affirmed her support for completing the West Alabama Corridor, and said the project was of equal importance as expanding I-65 to six lanes, something critics of the West Alabama Corridor project have said deserves greater attention.

Speaking with WBRC’s Jonathan Hardison, Britt said that while it was important to invest “more money” into high-profile projects like I-65, “you can’t forget about our rural communities.”

“I am from a rural area of this state, and I know how important critical infrastructure is; whether it’s getting stuff from farm to market, or whether it’s creating economic development opportunities so that you can get an 18-wheeler into a community and spur some growth and opportunity for those children that live there,” Britt said.

Announced by Gov. Kay Ivey in 2021, the 75-mile West Alabama Corridor project would see a four-lane highway connect Tuscaloosa to Thomasville, and would serve as a significant improvement to Highway 43, where traffic congestion and dangerous conditions are frequent. Transportation department officials have recently said a total price on the project is not yet known, but it could be around $1.1 billion.

In recent months, several elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, have gotten louder in advocating that  expanding I-65 should be the state’s transportation priority. Elliott has also questioned why the project will be funded entirely with gas tax revenue and not at least some federal money.

During a recent Contract Review Committee meeting, Elliott voted to hold a nearly $75 million contract related to design work on the West Alabama Corridor Project. Proponents of the corridor plan include Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who has said it’s much needed for the Black Belt community, which he also argued is often underfunded when compared to other regions of the state.

 In response to Elliott delaying the corridor contract, England vowed to hold every other transportation contract. As of Tuesday, all those holds remained in place.

Elliott Tuesday told ADN he’d like to see the project done.

” The problem is, with the administration’s funding scheme, the project is set up for failure and all we’ll be left with is a very expensive set of plans,” Elliott said. He plans on visiting Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day today to discuss the plan.

“Without federal funding, the project is unsustainable and likely won’t be completed,” Elliott said.

Ivey told ADN that neither Ainsworth or Elliott have spoken to her regarding their concerns over funding the West Alabama Corridor project. It’s to be financed by bonds repaid over time from the 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase approved by lawmakers in 2019. That Rebuild Alabama Act legislation allows for 50% of the state’s projected revenue from the tax increase to be committed for bond debt.

Speaking with WBRC’s Jonathan Hardison, Britt said that she couldn’t affirmatively place importance on one project over the other, and that as a product of a rural community herself – a native to Coffee County – it was equally as important to fund the state’s rural infrastructure.

“I think you have to be judicious, you have to look at the whole state; we have needs in every single corner of the state,” she said.

“We have to make sure that we’re looking at the whole state and that we’re doing all of it, so I don’t think there’s one answer over another. I think that that means we have to work hard and work together to invest in every corner of the state; invest in your main thoroughfares, but can’t forget about your rural communities, they’re important too, and they’re an important part of the state.”

Alabama Daily News’ Mary Sell contributed to this report.

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