It’s all about the money. And there isn’t enough of it to go around.
That’s the message Houston County District 4 Commissioner Brandon Shoupe took away from a recent meeting with Alabama Department of Transportation officials about various road improvements around Dothan.
Shoupe inquired about a number of potential road improvements, some more pressing than others, but much of it may be left undone due to a lack of funding at ALDOT.
One of the top areas of concern for Shoupe is the Ross Clark Circle/U.S. Highway 84 West intersection, which he describes as a “huge bottleneck.”
Shoupe said ALDOT is considering several options for the intersection, including altering the timing of traffic signals.
But the most enticing option to the commissioner is one that was proposed nearly two decades ago: an overpass.
“It could’ve come to fruition in the ‘90s, but there were some people in office back then that put a kibosh on that one and it was never brought up again,” Shoupe said. “I let (ALDOT) know it would be my opinion that we should put an overpass there, even though it would be by far the most expensive option available.”
He explained that even with improved signals or a widened roadway, the bottleneck will still exist there and slow the flow of traffic through Dothan, which could cause economic damage down the line.
“The concern that I have, and other local leaders have, is if you can’t get through Dothan (in a timely manner), then you’re not going to want to go through Dothan,” Shoupe said. “We want as much traffic coming through Houston County as possible, we just don’t want it to be a huge bottleneck. We need the traffic for our tax base.”
Brantley Kirk, public information officer for ALDOT’s Southeast Region, confirmed there have been talks about improving the intersection.
“We always have plans to improve that area, but all comes down to funding,” Kirk said.
Shoupe said the current congressional ban on earmarks has damaged Alabama in particular because funds that were earmarked for the Interstate 10 connector project (which Shoupe said now appears unlikely to happen) can’t be used for Ross Clark Circle improvements.
“The I-10 connector had several millions earmarked towards it, and that money can’t get earmarked toward another project,” Shoupe said. “With the transportation bill that is currently before the House and Senate in Washington, we’re trying to make sure it’s got language to let us use I-10 connector money for Circle improvements.”
Shoupe said widening the stretch of Ross Clark Circle from Bauman Drive to U.S. 231 North would cost about $40 million, and ALDOT’s annual construction budget is only $50 million.
One change ALDOT is discussing that may not make residents happy is the introduction of “access control” on 84 West, similar to the changes that have been made along 231 North in Dothan.
Shoupe said he’d prefer a widening of the highway, but it’s dependent on funding.
“If money was no object, I would want to take it from the Circle to County Road 9 in Wicksburg, but that’s going to come down to money,” Shoupe said. “They’re realistically looking at the Circle to Brannon Stand. I don’t mean they’re going to do it, of course. The federal transportation bill would be beneficial to those efforts. If that bill doesn’t pass, we’re back to no money to do it.”
He has warned ALDOT officials that residents won’t be happy with access control, but he’s been informed the changes have been effective on 231 North.
“Nobody’s happy with those changes, but according to their analysis, it increased throughput,” Shoupe said. “I talked to a few police officers, and they told me it’s decreased the number of accidents there. That is probably going to be a philosophy (ALDOT) stays with for many years to come, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your opinion.”
Shoupe also said any further improvements to the Brannon Stand/Fortner intersection have been pushed to the 2017 fiscal year.