Talks about west Alabama freeway ongoing

By Staff
Jason Cannon
Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. wants lawmakers to help pave the way for a Florence-Mobile freeway that he hopes will help revitalize rural areas of west Alabama.
In a press conference called Thursday afternoon, Folsom asked legislators to commission a study on how to pay for and build the freeway spanning nearly 300 miles between the state's northwestern and southwestern corners.
The plan, while still in its most infantile stages, would create a route through portions of Franklin County and could make the area much more attractive to manufacturers looking for a new industrial home.
"In my opinion, they can't start on this fast enough," said Mitch Mays, Executive Director of the Franklin County Development Authority. "North and west Alabama have traditionally been plagued by lack of transportation routes. That hinders industrial growth. This would create a great transportation route, with access to the mid-western United States and the ports in Mobile."
Folsom said state officials have been discussing the need for such a freeway since he was a child but he said, "There has not been the major effort put forth to see this project through."
At a news conference with 17 Democratic and Republican legislators, the Democratic lieutenant governor urged the legislature to create a commission to explore both public and private financing for the project.
Supporters said a four-lane road running parallel to the Mississippi state line would bring jobs to a part of Alabama that is poor, rural and dependent on timber and agriculture.
"Look at the existing Interstates in Alabama," Mays said. "Most development occurs within a 15-mile radius of the corridors and intersections."
Mays also compared the potential for new jobs and industry to what is currently being experienced with the new Interstate 22.
"That's the hottest corridor in the state," he said, "and it's not even complete yet. There's no doubt in my mind that Toyota would not be building in Tupelo (Miss.) if it weren at for that corridor."
The commission is expected to deliver its report to the legislature in February.
"Historically, west Alabama has been plagued by a lack of transportation," Mays said.
"That makes it hard to compete for jobs, hard to compete for industry. What this freeway would do for west Alabama is give us great access to the coast, to the ports in Mobile, and create additional corridors all along the route. The potential for growth is tremendous."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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