Finishing 84 could be major for us

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2013

How many times a week do you end up on Hwy. 84?

Lots, if you count trips to do business on the bypass, as well as trips that take you through Opp or Evergreen. I’ve used it my entire life, but perhaps never so much as this week, when I spent 10 hours travelling the El Camino East/West Corridor.

The corridor is a 1,729-mile roadway named for El Camino Real, or “The King’s Highway” in Spanish, the historic trail it will duplicate.

Since 1989, members of a five-state commission including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia have been working to get Hwy. 84 four-lane from El Paso, Texas, to Brunswick, Ga. The highway crosses 48 counties and six parishes, and directly impacts the lives of 1.5 million Americans.

In Mississippi, Hwy. 84 is almost completely four-laned. Except for an occasional four-way stop, once I crossed the state line, it was like an Interstate.

And that’s exactly the vision that members of the El Camino Commission have for the highway. The group met in Washington in February to continue lobbying for the completion of this project.

Natchez, Miss., Mayor Butch Brown, who also is a former director of Mississippi Department of Transportation, told to commission members that Hwy. 84 is an optimal east/west corridor of product distribution, and has the potential to relieve traffic pressure on I-10, where truck counts exceed car counts, according to the group’s minutes.

Mississippi is considering increasing its speed limits on major highways like 84 from 70 to 75, making it even more attractive as an alternate route for current I-10 traffic.

Think about what proximity to an Interstate does to and for communities, and imagine what four-laning the remaining 30 percent of this highway could do for our county.

Then-Speaker Seth Hammett worked hard to secure funding for four-laning Hwy. 84 from Andalusia east. Those who’ve followed the project closely say the worst part is between Andalusia and the Alabama/Mississippi line. Very little of that is four-laned, but my observation was that the most work is needed from Grove Hill east.

On many miles of the highway through west Alabama, there’s not even a power pole in sight, much less a dwelling. Surely, it is difficult to convince lawmakers to spend highway money in such a sparsely-populated area.

But helping to get this highway four-laned could be a huge economic boost for parts of the southeast, and especially for that sparsely-populated and perpetually poor Black Belt it crosses.


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