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Transportation bill includes Hwy. 84

By By MICHELE GERLACH – Publisher
A coalition that has been working to get U.S. Hwy. 84 improved in the central and western portions of Alabama got good news last week when the $286.4 million federal highway bill passed with provisions for the highway in Conecuh and Monroe counties.
The bill includes $4 million requested by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Mobile) and $4.8 million requested by U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Mobile) to widen Hwy. 84 to four lanes from Evergreen to Monroeville.
Sandy Smith, executive director of the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Tri-County Industrial Development Authority board, said, "We are absolutely thrilled" with the news.
Smith said this is the second time the project has been named in a federal appropriation. In 2003, Congress approved $235,000 for a corridor study of the Evergreen-to-Monroeville project.
Smith said that, in today's dollars, it is estimated the Evergreen-to-Monroeville project will cost $90 million. The appropriation in the federal highway bill will cover about 10 percent of that cost.
To extend the widening of Hwy. 84 to the Mississippi line is projected to cost an additional $500 million, she said.
Smith said officials in Monroe, Conecuh, Clarke and Choctaw counties have been working on improving Hwy. 84 for years. Similar efforts have been ongoing by the El Camino East/West Corridor group, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, since 1989. "El Camino East/West Corridor" is the name the east-west route has been given to give it higher priority. Signs in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana designate Hwy. 84 as the corridor.
But it's only in the past two years that the efforts of the Alabama counties have been combined.
For many years, she said, the state's congressmen and senators told Monroe County officials "it's a great project, but y'all are the only ones talking about it."
Getting more people to speak favorably of the project and work together on it has helped, she said.
She said it's now more imperative than ever that the four counties work together to seek funding for the remainder of the project in Alabama.
Already, the counties have collectively asked for a $20 million federal appropriation with which to do a corridor study from Monroeville to the Mississippi line.
When the El Camino group held its annual five-state meeting in Vidalia, La., in July, Bill Couch of the Alabama Department of Transportation reported that of the 234.7 miles of El Camino in Alabama: