I-85 could mean a ‘whole new world’

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 27, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

The possibility of interstate I-85 will result in more places to work, play, eat and entertain in the Selma-Dallas County area. Perhaps more importantly, jobs.

Selma-Dallas County Economic Development head Wayne Vardaman said the proposed expansion, which was put on the fast track by state officials, would create a boom in the area, for almost everyone in the Black Belt.

“An interstate opens up another world,” Vardaman said.

I-85 currently links Alabama to Georgia. The proposed expansion would connect I-85 with I-20/59, where it crosses the Mississippi line near Cuba, Ala.

While the route has yet to be determined, the plan would cut I-85 through the Black Belt, a region including Selma and Dallas

County.

Gov. Bob Riley fast tracked the expansion by adding $16 million in state money to the already $3 million which was provided by the federal government. The project could take more than a decade to complete, but because he wants to increase development in the Black Belt, according to Alabama Department of Transportation Director Joe McInnes.

“This is his initiative, McInnes said. “If we don’t start it we won’t finish it.”

“Seventy-five to 85 percent of all industry locates five-miles within an interstate,” Vardaman said.

With an interstate in the area, Vardaman said Selma and Dallas County would have yet another selling point to bring industry in the area.

Another benefit from interstate access is the possible increase in retail business for the area.

Vardaman said retailers, including restaurants and shops, like to locate within a short distance of an interstate to increase traffic to their stores.

An interstate would bring more shops and entertainment centers to the area, Vardaman said.

“It means a lot to the community lifeblood,” he said.

“We’d prefer it to be closer to our industrial parks,” Vardaman said.

In fact, he said the county’s industrial parks are already constructed with interstate connections in mind, which means if and when the expansion comes through, the county is ready for it.

If U.S. Representative Artur Davis, who represents the area in Congress, has anything to say about it, the expansion will come close to the county’s industrial centers.

Davis said he wants the proposed route to include Selma in Dallas

County and

Demopolis in Marengo, which he said could be centers of development.

Riley’s plan for the current phase of expansion includes hiring a company to determine the route for the interstate.

McInnes said he expects to select a company to plan the route next week. It will take about 20 months to determine the route.

While the expansion will undoubtedly help the Selma-Dallas

County area, it isn’t the only piece of roadwork underway that bodes well for the area.

McInnes said plans are already underway to widen U.S. Highway 80, the main thouroughfare through the Black Belt.

“We lack only 22 miles to have U.S. 80 widened to four lanes from Montgomery to Mississippi,” McInnes said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.