Thursday, November 13, 2014

I-22 Construction Continues into Birmingham, Provides Economic Development Opportunities

Approved by Congress as project "Corridor X", Interstate-22 construction moved into Alabama in 2010. The Alabama leg is now in (Birmingham) Jefferson County, AL at it's intersection with I-65. According to Fox affiliate WRBC, the interchange was schedule to be completed in October 2014.  From early on, agencies in the region have pinned new development hopes on the new corridor. 

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
As of this writing, there are no known organized groups in East Alabama or Georgia who have taken up promoting the eastern extension specifically. However, a group in western Georgia is promoting the idea of an "Import/Export Highway" between Troup County, Georgia on the Alabama border and Macon in middle Georgia.  

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.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gulf Coast Strategic Highway - I-14 Update

Interstate-14 was first proposed in 2005. In Georgia, transportation and political officials seized on the proposal as a way to tackle two issues with the present interstate system in that state. The state lacks East-West Interstate highways south of Atlanta. I-16 serves as the only East-West connection to Georgia's ports. Interstate travel between Georgia's second-tier cities is non-existent. The phrase "can't get there from here" is often heard when discussing travel between Augusta and Columbus, Georgia.

As discussed in earlier posts, the military readiness goals of I-14 are clear. While the original proposal has the new highway terminating in Natchez, Mississippi, others have wisely endorsed the route with proposals to extend it all the way to El Paso, Texas.

The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway System is proposed as an upgrade of
fort hoodexisting highways in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  The objective is to provide better connectivity between Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Fort Polk and the strategic ports at Corpus Christi and Beaumont.  These improvements are needed to address military deployment and mobility efficiency.  Approximately 40% of the military equipment and supplies deployed in the ongoing war efforts have moved over the docks at Corpus Christi and Beaumont, Texas.

Gulf Coast Strategic Highway website

The Texas plan is winning backers in the state house and from economic
I-14 Texas Plan
development officials. Like Columbus, GA, Bryan/College Station TX is that states's largest metro without Interstate access. That has brought the backing of Texas A&M for the project. Business and economic developers recognize Interstates as the 'gold standard' for industry looking to re-locate or expand.

Unfortunately, no such similar group exists in the Georgia or Alabama. Alabama DOT does have plans to extend I-85 from Montgomery to the Mississippi border as is suggested in the proposed Eastern route of I-14. Georgia DOT issued this report to Connect Central Georgia in July 2013.

Since this Interstate proposal, the Georgia DOT has studied the East-West route between Macon andLaGrange, Georgia and found that suggested route for Interstate expansion to have the highest return on investment (ROI), primarily due to the location of the Kia Motors assembly plant in West Point, Troup County, Georgia in 2008. The Import/Export highway has a backer group with website. This proposal could easily be tied with the I-14 proposal as its western leg in Georgia.