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State seeks #036;3 billion to improve storm routes

Sen. Richard Shelby asked and officials with the Alabama Department of Transportation did their best to accommodate his request.

State officials have submitted a $3 billion request to Shelby, which if approved by congress, would improve hurricane evacuation routes from the Alabama Gulf Coast. Affecting Butler County, $550 million would be used to widen I-65 from Mobile to Montgomery while Georgiana would benefit with $500,000 ramp modifications to Exit 114 and $750,000 improvements at the intersection of U.S. 31 and County Rd. 106.

Katie Boyd, press secretary for Shelby, told the Birmingham News last week that the senator had asked the governor's office about specific needs and damage incurred for the hurricane ravaged gulf coast.

Georgiana Mayor Lynn Watson said he's tried for years to have the U.S. 31 and County Rd. 106 intersection improved.

&#8220It's probably the No. 1 place for accidents from the start of 31 to its end,” said Watson. &#8220The way it's built, you have to look both ways and sometimes you are unable to see a vehicle coming from the south.”

During hurricane evacuations, said Watson, the intersection causes &#8220huge hang-ups” for evacuees coming north.

&#8220It's a very hard area of traffic to control,” he said. &#8220We're also trying to get a red light put there because we're running into the same sort of problems they had at the 31 and 10 intersection (in Greenville). People aren't watching on 106 and they just go on across.”

The request from ALDOT, includes improvements and modifications to a host of roadways in south Alabama. The priciest project, other than the widening of I-65, would add a bridge over Mobile Bay at a cost of $660 million.

&#8220The list we presented to Congress takes into account every project that could possibly help in a hurricane evacuation,” Tony Harris, special assistant to the director of ALDOT, said.

&#8220Congress is indicating now that there will not be any big influx of additional funding,” he said. &#8220We will sprinkle the projects into our transportation budget when possible and hope for money in the next (federal) transportation funding bill, which will come in 2009.”

Congress should begin work on that bill in 2008, he said.

The last federal transportation bill expired in 2003 and it took Congress nearly two years to authorize a new one. During that time, Harris said, there were an unprecedented number of extensions to the 2003 act. When the bill was reauthorized, it was made retroactive to 2003 and extended to 2009.

He also said that, in the future, the state would look hard at projects for which local governments provide a match.

Michele Gerlach contributed to this report.