U.S. Highway 80 corridor to get facelift

Published 1:40 pm Thursday, February 5, 2009

The U.S. Highway 80 corridor is due for a facelift.

On Thursday, representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management discussed plans for the revitalization of the U.S. Highway 80 corridor between Selma and Montgomery.

The plan involves cleaning up and revitalizing brownfields, and other contaminated and abandoned sites, to promote economic growth along the corridor. The U.S. Highway 80 corridor is one of only two sites selected in the Southeast.

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“It’s not a project that’s going to take days,” said Jeffrey Pallas, EPA restoration and underground storage tank branch chief for Region 4. “It’s going to take years.

But the moment you have a small success, everyone wants to jump on board.”

Pallas stressed the importance of building partnerships between national and local agencies, and the communities along the corridor. The EPA will build and maintain those partnerships while helping communities acquire funds to revitalize the corridor.

“We just plant the seed,” Pallas said. “We need to hear from the communities.”

Communities along the corridor will hold vision meetings beginning in April. At these meetings, residents can voice their opinions and ideas for the corridor. They will have the chance to put those ideas to paper, drawing images, which will be re-drawn by an artist.

Pallas said discussions and plans were key, but ultimately worthless if the agencies and community did not take action.

“We can talk all day long,” he said. “The timing may be right, but the challenge is to continue to grow the spark.”

Selma has done a fine job in this department, according to EPA’s brownfields project manager Camilla Bond Warren.

“Selma’s got one of the best programs in the nation on using brownfields,” she said.

ADEM deputy director Marilyn Elliott said it is because agencies and communities along the corridor finish what they start.

“That’s the key,” she said. “You’ve got to have a vision. Assessment, clean up and revitalization.

Elliott said ADEM has worked with the EPA and applied for grants for the area the last four or five years. Elliott is happy the communities will have a hand in revitalizing the area.

“They know what they want their city to look like,” she said.

Part of that vision for Selma is a park along the riverfront, which would include walking trails, an amphitheatre and an interactive water fountain, along with other features.

Pallas said Selma’s vision, the EPA’s past experiences with the city and the length of the corridor made the region a perfect fit.

“You can’t start with 100,000 miles,” he said.

While Pallas is optimistic for the area, he said there would be challenges – locating potential sites and bringing developers together from the communities.

However, Mayor George Evans is confident and relieved that the ball is finally rolling.

“This is the beginning of something that should’ve happened a long time ago,” Evans said. But it’s never too late. It’s a team effort.”