Interstate 85 improvement could bring life to Black Belt

Published 8:46 pm Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not too many weeks ago, residents of the Black Belt had the opportunity to see plans for the proposed Interstate 85 extension. When completed, the freeway will run from Montgomery through at least six Black Belt counties to I59/20 at Cuba and the Mississippi state line.

This region has some of the highest unemployment in the state and some of the poorest people in the state. The leadership here has worked very hard to entice industry and retail, but as most developers understand, transportation is the key to hard-core retail and industrial development.

About five years ago, as Congress considered an omnibus interstate planning and construction bill, Sen. Richard Shelby stepped up to the plate for the Black Belt and secured $100 million for the planning and purchasing of right of way for the proposed Interstate 85 extension.

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Through his influence in the Senate the money was secured. Volkert and Associates received the contract to conduct the studies and public hearings that would begin the process.

Now the environmental report is completed. It was shown recently to the public. There are some concerns about the middle portion of the stretch of interstate surrounding Selma. One alternative, the one preferred by engineers and others, would go south of Selma, opening up areas by Craig Field and South Dallas industrial parks — a good incentive for industries. But the nearest interchange would be at least six miles from Selma’s retail area, hotels and restaurants. This has raised some concern among business owners and local officials. Another route would go to the north of Selma, and be much closer to retail, encouraging development.

Local officials have said they will work with engineers, the Alabama Department of Transportation and others to secure what’s best for Selma.

In the meantime, now the plans are out and fresh for everyone to see, it’s important our local officials and our congressional delegation, including the new congressperson from District 7 in the Black Belt continue to push for further development.

Transportation is our lifeline. The Black Belt will need this to progress into the 21st century.