While work continues on widening a small section of Ross Clark Circle, local officials remain hopeful the next big phase of improvements will receive funding at the right time.
No one, however, appears to know when – or exactly how – the funding will be made available.
Phase II of Ross Clark Circle expansion calls for the addition of lanes from Highway 231 North to Bauman Drive, as well as the reconfiguration of medians along the stretch. Since 2012, local officials have been told the funding is there. Getting the money to the right place has proven to be more difficult than anyone thought.
State Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, said he left hopeful after a 90-minute meeting Tuesday with representatives from the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“If everything was to go smoothly, there is a chance the funds could be made available by the end of the year,” Lee said. “But, as of right now, there is no way to know. The best way I can put it is that the funds are hung up right now.”
Shrinking highway money put the project in jeopardy several years ago. Then, in 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order freeing up funds that had been set aside for long-dormant projects to be repurposed for other projects. However, those projects had to be “shovel ready” and no plans had been drawn for Circle improvements at that time.
Some of the set-aside funds included $40 million for I-10 Connector studies. Some $28 million remains unused. The long-believed idea was that the $28 million could be repurposed for the Circle projects, especially since plans have been drawn since last year. But, that hasn’t happened. A moratorium in Washington on earmarking funds has kept the money in place.
“I am still optimistic we are going to find a way to make this happen,” Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said.
In January, ALDOT Director Jon Cooper said funding for the next phase of Ross Clark Circle improvements was “somewhere between a promise and a plan.”
Current work on the Circle involves replacement of a bridge over a culvert near Eye Center South and the addition of lanes from Bauman Drive to Fortner Street.