As most of the new Interstate has been completed between Birmingham and Memphis, regional economic development groups have been exploiting the link as a serious economic engine for Northwest Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, I-22 is already boosting economic development opportunity in the state. The I-22 Alliance is a regional economic development group formed to promote the corridor to new industry. The C3 of Northwest Alabama touts the regions transportation advantages, I-22 chief among them.
|I-22 Existing and Suggested Eastern Extension to Georgia Ports|
The map image above demonstrates the I-22 Eastern Extension (discussed in this earlier post) following the recently upgraded US280 from Birmingham through the Auburn/Opelika, Alabama area, and Columbus and Albany, Georgia on to the Georgia ports at Brunswick. Yet, the alignment could easily be routed through the Valley, Alabama to LaGrange area to achieve the goal of the Import/Export Highway. Obviously, any supporters in southern Georgia, particularly those in the Brunswick Ports, area would not be served by the alternate proposal.
Rather than pursuing future Interstate projects, and while acknowledging the city's shunning by Interstate planners, Columbus, GA officials are presently focused on advocating for high-speed rail from Columbus to Atlanta. While a worthwhile goal, rail and Interstate planning need not be and either/or proposition. A rail feasibility study is underway.
Indeed, an I-22 extension from Birmingham would provide a clear corridor from Georgia Atlantic ports to the midwest gateway at Memphis. The suggested route provides Albany, GA's only Interstate access, and intersects I-75 just a few miles south of Georgia's inland port at Cordele. To punctuate Interstates importance to job creation, Badcock Corp clearly stated (in their press release) that LaGrange, Georgia's location in I-85 was a key factor in locating their distribution center there: “Georgia’s logistics infrastructure will give them easy access to their growing number of retail stores across the Southeast.”