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Sewell still pushing for I 85

When transportation and project officials first revealed plans to expand Interstate 85 from Montgomery to the Mississippi state line, officials sparked hope in local residents by encouraging economic growth.

Plans for the 140-mile preferred route — a route that travels south of Selma and then eases northward as it approaches Demopolis — have stalled due to lack of federal funding and encouragement. The route, which was unveiled during a series of public meetings, has been panned by leaders in Selma and Dallas County, but officials argue the route was preferred due to cost estimates in avoiding wetland areas in the Black Belt.

During a meeting with the Times-Journal, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) said the on-again, off-again project, has been frustrating to her constituents and the preferred route proposed does little to generate wanted economic growth in some the Black Belt’s retail centers like Selma.

“We’ve actually drafted numerous letters, talked with ALDOT, Volkert (the project engineers) … trying to use the influence of our office to get them to look at this again,” Sewell said. “It’s preferred by whom? It’s clearly not the preferred route of those in the 7th congressional district.”

Many groups in her district, not just Selma, Sewell said, want planners and workers to revisit the route to ensure economic growth in the area.

“Different groups really want them … to try to get it to go through town centers so the economic boost can be felt by cities that can really help spur the economic growth for the Black Belt,” Sewell said. “We made it well know we want them to revisit.”

Sewell said the route won’t run directly through Selma but will run near the Dallas Industrial Park instead. Sewell said in order to change planners’ minds the key is for the public to consistently make noise.

“We’ve got to continue to press, especially since it’s federal dollars,” Sewell said. “The pressure has to be in the citizens. I am pleased the citizens of Selma and 7th district are trying to make their voices known … we have to continuously do that.”

What the 7th congressional district needs more than anything, Sewell said, is “resources and opportunities.”

“I see my role as being a conduit for those resources and opportunities,” Sewell said. “Every chance I get to interface with the administration — be it with the president or any member of his cabinet, it’s always with the mind towards trying to promote what I think the folks in the 7th congressional district want me to promote, which is their opportunities and resources.”

And because earmarks, or money towards a specific project in a district, are no longer available, Sewell’s office is working tirelessly to funnel more grants into the district. Sewell has been able to obtain $16 million in grants in addition to the $150 million awarded to the state for disaster relief.

“In order to make up for the earmark opportunities, its critically important that we get information to our folks in our district about grant opportunities,” Sewell said.
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