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Highway expansion could help revenue

Converting a six-mile stretch of Alabama Highway 22 from a two-lane highway into a four-lane highway with a center turning lane could bring new businesses to Valley Grande, Mayor Tom Lee said.

Currently, businesses must pay between $70,000 and $80,000 to construct a turning lane along the highway. Lee said this price tag scares away many small to medium sized businesses.

“The costs are so prohibitive,” Lee said. “Highway 22 could be an economic corridor for us.”

Although the city would not receive any property taxes from new businesses, Lee said the bump in sales taxes is key for the town, which was incorporated in 2003.

“It’s huge for us,” Lee said. “It’s almost a matter of economic necessity.”

The project consists of three phases, one of which is completed, Lee said. First, the Alabama Department of Transportation must acquire right of way. Lee said this phase is basically complete, except for a few small exceptions. Next, ALDOT must notify utility companies of the construction so electrical, water, cable and gas lines can be adjusted or relocated. Lee said ALDOT gave utility companies a March 23 deadline for this phase. Then comes funding the project and construction. Lee said the town hopes for some additional help in this department.

“We’re going to try and see if there can’t be some of this stimulus money that can take the burden,” Lee said.

Dallas County is projected to receive $300,000 in stimulus funds from President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Counties are expected to spend half of these funds within 120 days.

Probate Judge Kim Ballard said those funds might not be available for the Highway 22 project, though.

“It’s still a little bit of an unknown,” Ballard said.

Ballard said the project has been on ALDOT’s project list for years, but it keeps getting pushed back. Ballard said it is slated for completion by 2012.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said.

The widening of Highway 22 would have a major impact on the town and county, Ballard said.

“It would have a tremendous effect on business on 22 north,” he said.

Ballard said he and other county officials would meet with Rep. Artur Davis on April 9 to discuss how to move the plan along.

The meeting will take place from 2:30-4 p.m. at the Striplin Performing Arts Center and is meant for Dallas, Wilcox, Perry, Marengo, Choctaw and Clarke counties. It is one of three meetings Davis will hold in the 7th Congressional District, which he represents.

All attending stakeholders will have the opportunity to give a brief overview of their project, including its economic impact and potential for job creation.

“Because of the severe recession gripping our economy, I will evaluate projects primarily on their capacity to create jobs in the short term, and on their potential to generate immediate economic development,” Davis said in a statement Tuesday.

Prospective attendees as well as those who wish to present their project at the summit should contact Special Projects Coordinator Sissy Hembree at 205-254-1960.