This report is from a trip to a public meeting on the proposed West Alabama Freeway on October 18, 2006.

West Alabama Freeway public involvement meeting

A 'public involvement meeting', as ALDOT calls them.

Over the past couple days (and through a Google search, across the western part of the state over the past month), ALDOT and their consultants on the West Alabama Freeway have been holding meetings in the Mobile area, gathering input for what is right now a corridor study for the West Alabama Freeway, the long-proposed freeway to run from Mobile to the Muscle Shoals area. Tonight's meeting was in Semmes (along US 98 northwest of Mobile).

Right now, they're looking at general corridors, ranging from about 1 mile to upwards of 10 miles wide. There are anywhere from 2 to 4 subcorridors snaking north-south, with various interconnecting options as well. All corridor begin on the north end at US 72 or ALT US 72, and end on the south end at I-10.

Starting on the north end, 2 of the corridors begin on US 72 near Barton (west of Muscle Shoals), with a third beginning on ALT US 72 near Leighton. There's a NE-SW crossover corridor just north of Littleville. One corridor passes west of Hackleburg while the other two pass between Hackleburg and Bear Creek. All corridors pass east of Hamilton, though one only by about 4-5 miles.

Further south, one corridor goes near Beaverton (on US 278), one near Gu-win, and a third east of Winfield. Two of the corridors cross US 82 between Reform and Gordo. A third crosses US 82 just east of Gordo.  There are 4 potential I-20/59 crossing points: near (N of) Boligee, near (N of) Eutaw, near (S of) Knoxille, and near (S of) Fosters. This last one is the closest any of the corridors get to Tuscaloosa.

South of I-20/59, there are generally two larger corridors, one on each side of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers. The western corridor crosses the Tombigbee northwest of Demopolis, passes near the western US 80/AL 28 junction, passes near Butler, goes east of Silas (US 84/AL 17 junction), goes west of Chatom, passes near or west of Citronelle, and could take any potential location between the Mississippi line and Schillinger Rd through western Mobile County.

The eastern corridor south of I-20/59 crosses the Black Warrior River south of Fosters, goes west of Greensboro, goes near the US 80/AL 69 junction, passes near or south of Lindon, goes west of Sweet Water (on AL 10 west of US 43), crosses US 84 somewhere in a wide swath between Coffeeville and Zimco, crosses US 43 northeast of Jackson, crosses the Alabama River near Gainestown (word is that a bridge has been proposed here for some time), crosses I-65 somewhere between AL 287 and Perdido, and ends at I-10 somewhere northeast of Loxley. One of the ALDOT engineers mentioned that one option is to tie it directly into the proposed Foley Beach Express extension to I-10.

There are three cross-options between these two southern corridors.  One is NW-SE from northwest of Demopolis to south of Linden.  The second is NW-SE from east of Gilmertown (on AL 17, north of US 84) to south of Zimco. The third is NE-SW from south of Zimco to north of Citronelle.

A few other notes:

- Several people at the meeting were against what they saw as a reincarnation of the proposed "West Mobile Bypass", a proposed freeway-grade facility from I-10 to US 98 in western Mobile County.  They are especially opposed to any routing that would impact the creeks flowing into Big Creek Lake, which supplies much of the area's drinking water. Talked to one in particular who apparently was pretty active in getting the bypass shelved. Interestingly, while they're generally against a north-south freeway, they support the proposed new-location US 98 (which will bypass Wilmer and part of Semmes to the north), although one made the comment that the proposed routing should have been further north.

- At least 3 of the ALDOT representatives commented that the primary goal of this "West Alabama Freeway" is 'economic development' in depressed portions of the state. I don't disagree that many of the western AL counties have fallen on hard times, but IMO 'economic development' is *NOT* a valid justification for spending scarce transportation dollars on such a project. I made note of such on my comment sheet too.

- Along those lines, I also put on my comment sheet that completing the 4-laning of US 43 through the state, plus incorporating access management along US 43, would meet the objectives of the project at much less cost.

- A rough figure quoted for the cost of the project was in the $6-7 BILLION range.

- Commented about the lack of a potential corridor along US 43.  When I first heard about the project, I envisioned such a freeway beginning on I-65 in the Satsuma/Creola area, then running north along or parallel to US 43. Added that to my comment sheet as well and mentioned it to one of the ALDOT representatives, who actually pondered it.

- Also asked about the extreme lack of project information in general on ALDOT's website. Got the response that the I-85 Extension project is their test-bed for putting project information online, and the results of that test will dictate whether ALDOT uses the web for other projects.

- In light of some of the conversation at the table I was standing at, I also asked about the nonexistence of access management concepts within Alabama. Was impressed that several ALDOT representatives have realized what the lack of access management and driveway limitation/consolidation has done to the state's highways.  Whether this results on a proactive access management program in Alabama remains to be seen.

Packed up and headed home at this point.

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(C) 2007, Adam Froehlig