The I-10 Connector, once believed to be on the scrap heap of interstate road proposals, is breathing again.
However, don’t expect any dirt to be turned on the project during this decade.
The Florida Department of Transportation is seeking bids on a massive corridor study to determine the feasibility of a limited access road connecting Interstate 10 at or near the Bonifay, Fla., exchange at State Road 79 to U.S. Highway 231 North at or near Midland City. The estimated cost of the study alone is around $5 million and could take 4-6 years to complete.
The proposed study is the most recent of a handful of studies conducted to determine the feasibility of the road, which has been discussed for years but has never advanced beyond the study phase. Several routes have been previously proposed, including a route east of Dothan, a route through downtown Dothan and more than one route west of Dothan.
The current study, which has already been advertised for bid, includes one of the most western routes studied.
Officials with the states of Alabama and Florida are preparing a formal project announcement soon.
“It’s been a moving target,” Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver said. “At least as it seems now, the two states are communicating at the same level.”
According to the project proposal’s scope of services document, the purpose of the study is to determine the most effective route between the two points while considering a number of factors including “traffic and regional mobility; social, economic, and natural environmental impacts; and engineering feasibility. In addition to the mainline highway, major intersections will be evaluated for additional lanes, and crossroad connections will be analyzed to provide operation efficiency.”
Dothan and Houston County officials have long sought an interstate connector to spur economic development. Many, however, have preferred a route closer to the Dothan city limits due to the city’s reliance on sales tax revenue, much of which comes from pass-through traffic.
Florida’s interests include quick access north from the relatively new international airport near Panama City Beach and the Port of Panama City.
Rebecca White, communications specialist for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said ease of movement has always been a primary reason for limited access roads.
“The primary purpose of the corridor is to redirect truck and shipping traffic and to make it easier for goods to come and go and meet their destinations,” White said. “And, it should help alleviate truck traffic from (Ross Clark) circle.”
The project appeared to be dead in 2012. President Barack Obama unfolded the earmark on about $40 million that had been set aside for an I-10 connector in favor of projects that were determined to be more shovel ready. It is believed some funds may remain to help move the project forward.
White said the new movement with the I-10 connector should not affect the next phase of improvements to Ross Clark Circle, which call for the addition of lanes from Highway 231 north to Bauman Drive.
Ian Satter, Florida Department of Transportation communication specialist for District 3, said FDOT hoped to be able to award a bid within 30-60 days. The consultant will work under two contracts, one from the State of Alabama and one from the State of Florida. The consultant will be required to gather large amounts of data, perform studies within studies and seek public involvement from communities affected in and around the proposed route.
Satter said FDOT would “take the lead” on the project.
“This is a project still in its infancy,” Satter said. “The study will have to be very in depth, but it is the beginning of something.”