The West Alabama Highway Project will construct a 4-lane highway from Thomasville to Tuscaloosa. (Map courtesy of ALDOT)
The proposed West Alabama Highway, as the new four-lane route from Thomasville to Moundville is called, is on a fast-track schedule, according to Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) officials speaking to a group of elected officials and others in Thomasville earlier in November.
But ALDOT added that a new U.S. Highway 84 bridge across the Tombigbee River at Coffeeville has been delayed until 2024.
Those and other details on highway projects in a 10-county area that make up the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Commission's coverage area were explained at the annual Rural Planning Organization meeting. Among the attendees was ALDOT Director John Cooper as well as others from the state agency, the Thomasville Times reported.
North-South Highway to Finally See Construction
At the gathering, ALDOT engineers talked about the new highway that Gov. Kay Ivey broke ground for in late 2021. A four-lane north-south highway for west Alabama has been discussed for several years, and the Thomasville to Moundville route would do much to carry out that goal.
Starting in Thomasville, where the four-lane U.S. Highway 43 ends, the new road will be built north to Linden and connect to where a new bypass is planned east of that town. Just north of Linden, the new road would turn onto Ala. Highway 69 and continue north before bypassing to the west of Greensboro.
Still another bypass would be at Moundville, to the east, and a short distance north of that community, the new road would connect to the existing four-laned Ala. 69 before continuing to Tuscaloosa.
Construction will begin on the Linden Bypass within the next three months, the Times reported, with an expected finish in three years.
When completed, the new West Alabama Highway will have four lanes running north from Mobile near the Gulf Coast to Tuscaloosa in the west-central part of the state.
The entire 70-mi. road project, with 20 bridges, has been estimated to cost between $760 million to $780 million. The Thomasville news outlet noted that the north and south portions of the Linden Bypass alone will total $140 million.
New Building Method Should Shorten Work
The West Alabama Highway project will be constructed using a new concept called "progressive design build" that is supposed to speed up the process. It will allow no-bid contracts with ALDOT negotiating for the best price.
It is the first use of the building concept in Alabama.
ALDOT's Cooper explained that a project that would take 13 years to build typically eats up nine of those years in pre-construction work.
"Simply, we are trying to develop a delivery method that doesn't plan for nine years," he explained. "The onus it puts on [ALDOT] is [for us] to be tough negotiators."
Cooper added that no one is certain how well progressive design build is going to work but he is willing to try it.
Other Alabama Road Projects Explained
Cooper was asked about expanding U.S. 84 to four lanes from the southeastern Alabama town of Andalusia westward to the Mississippi state line, something that many have wanted for years.
"The big issue is traffic count," he explained, adding that the most traffic on the stretch in question is at the intersection of U.S. 84 and Ala. 21 on the south side of Monroeville with about 10,000 vehicles a day. Away from that junction in either direction and the count falls to 6,000 or 7,000 vehicles a day, not enough to warrant new construction, Cooper said.
Advocates for more lanes on U.S. 84 still cite the many log trucks that use the route and the need for four lanes for improved safety.
In announcing its delay, ALDOT said the proposed U.S. 84 bridge on the Tombigbee River in Coffeeville has been on and off the table for years. More recently, ALDOT has started negotiations with affected property owners around the span to buy needed rights-of-way.
One reason the project was put on hold until 2024 may be that some federal deadlines were missed, according to the Thomasville newspaper.
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