State eyes 331 four-lane

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 29, 2010

State transportation officials will begin a corridor study in the fall to determine the feasibility of four-laning U.S. Hwy. 331 from the Florida state line to U.S. Hwy. 84 in Opp.

The announcement, which was made Monday by Speaker of the House Seth Hammett and Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba), was met with positive reactions by local leaders. Work on the study will begin in October.

The highway, which serves as a major beach route for tourists and transportation route for commercial and manufacturing industries, is not four-laned between Opp and Florala.

ALDOT committed to the study after meeting at the request of Hammett, the mayors of Andalusia, Opp, Florala and Red Level, the county commission and the directors of the South Alabama Regional Airport.

“This corridor study is a critical first step,” Hammett said. “A four-lane leading to I-10 would be a catalyst for Covington County’s economic development.”

Hammett said all involved appreciated the “willingness” of state highway officials to listen to local officials and “push the study forward.”

Holley called the study “vital” to the county.

“If we’re going to continue to attract new industries and the jobs that come with them, we have to find a way to position our transportation infrastructure for growth. This corridor study will tell us whether this will be the most cost efficient and practical route.”

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said if the project became a reality, a four-laned U.S. Hwy. 331 would “entice traffic through the perception of expediency.”

“Not to mention, it would enhance the flow of traffic,” Williamson said. “It is definitely good news for Florala.”

Tucson Roberts, the county’s economic development director, said he was glad to see the commitment from the state.

“A four laned U.S. Hwy. 331 will definitely help attract industry to Covington County,” Roberts said. “Such an improvement will mean faster transit time and less cost to business and industry. It not only would make it easier to attract new business, but it will also benefit our existing business. Transportation is a primary consideration for most industry location decisions and critical to our success.”

Roberts said there was no way to know how the lack of a complete four-lane has affected the county.

“The prospects that require four-lane access are fully aware that 331 is not four-laned,” he said. “Consequently, most will not even visit without the proper road access available, so there is no way of knowing how many we’ve missed.”

Opp Mayor H.D. Edgar was not available for comment Monday.