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Widen Highway 55

Committee meets to increase push for roadwork, funding

By Stan J. Griffin

The mission of possibly widening Highway 55

to four lanes from Andalusia to the Florida state line is picking up steam yet again.

A committee which included Covington County Commissioner Glen Powell, Andalusia City Councilman Jerry Andrews, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bette Reynolds, Wayne Killough, Jeff Sellers, Ward Taylor and Jimmy Taylor met for nearly two hours Wednesday afternoon to discuss the need for the widening project and the formulation of a committee to spearhead fundraising and other items associated with the project.

Andrews explained that about 25 years ago, there was an effort by Jimmy Taylor to get an interconnector between I-65 and I-10, and said at that point interstate highways were still under construction.

"As I understand, either North Dakota or South Dakota was not going to use its allocation, which was about 100 miles, and we had worked out a deal where they would give that 100 miles to the State of Alabama to complete (the proposed interconnector)," said Andrews.

He said the deal would have only called for a 10 percent state match from Alabama, and said the administration of George Wallace, then the governor of Alabama, was in favor of the deal and an announcement of the deal was apparently set to take place in Washington D.C.

Andrews said, however, that Ray Bass, who was the state's highway director at the time, announced that Alabama would not match the 10 percent, which effectively stopped the deal.

Those who attended Wednesday's meeting agreed, though, that the need for the widening project of Highway 55 is still an integral part of Andalusia's growth, and the growth of Covington County in general.

Andrews suggested a good idea to possibly build enthusiasm and interest for the project would be to have trifold brochures produced, pointing out the potential benefits of the project, which include quicker evacuations of military personnel, economic and commercial development and even the possibility of turning Andalusia into a bedroom community.

He said another good idea would be for two or three people to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with Sen. Richard Shelby, and have this group possibly include officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and even the federal highway department and military personnel.

Jimmy Taylor said he feels it might be a better idea to try and contact Shelby after the November elections as the senator is extremely busy at this point.

"We have our work cut out for us (on the Highway 55 project)," said Andrews. "We have got to come together in the western part of Covington County as a force, and I am talking about Red Level, Gantt

and Libertyville. The question is, will the folks in the western part of Covington County come together for something like this? If it is important enough, they will do it, but you have to stand up and be counted, and it is tough to stand up to some politicians. I think it is time to stand up or shut up for the people in the western part of Covington County."

Ward Taylor said it will be important to point out the economic benefits of such a project to the general public as well as the possibility of increased industry and jobs.

He also mentioned possibly putting up signs promoting the project, with Jimmy Taylor saying he would like to see a large billboard displayed in a prominent place.

Also suggested during the session was the possibility of establishing a web-site with various information concerning the project and an email address where people could pledge their support or ask questions about the project.

Ward Taylor said it would also be a good idea to have presentations for civic organizations such as the Lion's Club and Civitan's Club in order to provide information to the public as well as to garner financial support. Also mentioned was holding programs for senior adults and perhaps even church groups.

"We need to form a group or a coalition, and we need to have a name where we can fund money and go out and get people involved in it," said Ward Taylor.

The group will be called the Committee of 110.

It was also suggested that the group enlist the help of former state senator Crum Foshee, a native of Red Level, who now resides in Montgomery.

The group will also try and gain funding from the Andalusia Industrial Development Board, as one of the main focuses of the project will be the potential for industrial development.

"We are gearing up to bring prosperity to our area, and we believe (the Highway 55 project) is a key," said Andrews.

Another meeting of the group is tentatively scheduled for August 14 at noon, to be held at the Andalusia Chamber of Commerce.