Around a dozen elected officials from across the region gathered in Tuscaloosa today to express their unified support of a stalled project to build a four-lane highway to ultimately connect Mobile to Tuscaloosa.

This West Alabama Corridor has been a dream for local leaders for decades, and that dream will become reality after Governor Kay Ivey announced funding for the project in her 2021 State of the State address - Ivey and others broke ground on the project that November.

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Since then, though, the project has become a topic of some political controversy - officials representing other parts of the state and Lt. Will Ainsworth have become vocal opponents of the West Alabama Corridor, arguing that upgrades to Interstate 65 should take priority.

Progress on the new highway is currently held up in the Legislative Contract Review Committee, a group of state representatives and senators who provide oversight of contracts awarded by Alabama's many departments.

Until they OK a $75 million design contract with a Birmingham firm, nothing else can move forward. The Committee can't gum up the works forever, they can only hold a contract for 45 days, but even when this one clears the obstacles ahead later this month, there will be many more contracts to come to complete the 81-mile project.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

Most of the region's most prominent elected officials and business leaders gathered at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama to call for the Review Committee to let the project proceed at a reasonable pace.

"We all know that infrastructure investment is the first step to economic development success and not having those assets limits if not eliminates the possibility of growth and prosperity," Chamber CEO and former state Rep. Kyle South said. "Our message today is simple. we want the West Alabama Highway project to move forward without any further delay opening a key artery for all of West Alabama."

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox was joined by Fayette Mayor Rod Northam and Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day at the press conference, and all three said their communities will dramatically benefit from the complete project.

"I've spent a lot of time in the western areas of our state and frankly, they are not where they need to be," Maddox said. "This project, as laid out by the governor and the legislature, begins to turn the page on much-needed investment in an area that has gone decades without it. We shouldn't be walking backwards from this very important moment in our state's history that will create jobs and improve the quality of life for all Alabamians."

The highway will improve travel safety and open new possibilities for economic development - a better connection between Mobile and Tuscaloosa could make a huge difference for exports - metallurgical coal or Mercedes Benz vehicles, for instance.

It will also keep more sales tax revenue in Alabama - Maddox noted many people traveling from Tuscaloosa to Alabama beaches cut into Mississippi for a better highway experience and then buy food, gas and more there instead of in our own state's communities.

"We all here are not blind to the fact that I-65 improvements are needed, especially south of Montgomery. That should not be the debate," Maddox said. "We passed Rebuild Alabama because the promise was made to deliver this corridor that has been promised for decades. Let's not make one project mutually exclusive of the other. I believe in the people of this state and I believe we can find a way to get both of these needed projects done."

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

Lawmakers in attendance included Senator Gerald Allen and Representatives from both parties including Cynthia Allen, Ron Bolton, Bill Lamb, Chris England and AJ McCampbell.

"I want to thank the governor, I've spoken to her several times about this and told her to stay the course, don't look back," Allen said. "Look forward because this will help rural Alabama. We have long too long delayed the opportunity that those citizens deserve."

Watch remarks from the entire press conference below, and stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for updates on the West Alabama Corridor Project as it develops.

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14 of the Top Stories published by the Tuscaloosa Thread during the week of October 9th, 2023)

Gallery Credit: (Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

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