The Road Less Traveled

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The 94-mile highway known as Corridor X has been on the drawing board for three decades, but now, transportation officials say it is only a few years from being complete. For the small businesses ‘ the tiny mom and pop restaurants, hotels and service stations sprinkled along the old highway the interstate will parallel ‘ it will likely mean a reduction of traffic… and a reduction of people coming in…

Charles Scott at Scott’s Texaco says he sees a lot of customers on their way from Memphis to Birmingham or beyond. Today, he talks to them about the interstate highway that, when completed, will make their lives easier, and his ‘ a little harder.

“They get that highway built, I probably won’t see y’all…”

The travelers are headed to a football game in Georgia. For them, the trip down old Highway 78 is long and tedious: a lot of stoplights and the dangerous combination of two-lane roads and eighteen-wheelers usually in a hurry. They say they are encouraged there will be a new, non-stop interstate connecting their city to Birmingham.

“Absolutely. Yes. (Is that going to make you want to travel it more?) Yes, that’s true … it will make me want to travel it more.”

And use Scott’s service station less.

“I think it will slow business down and take probably 25 percent of the business off the 78 Highway between Memphis and Birmingham and Atlanta. We get a lot of out-of-state business during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and then of course on the weekends.”

The bad news is compounded for Scott and other small business owners along Highway 78 because even if they wanted to relocate to the other interstate, it would likely be out of their reach. Land prices are expected to go up as big companies volley to get a spot at one of the corridor’s interchanges.

Bad news for small business owners, but good news for the region as a whole, says U-S Representative Spencer Bachus.

“…there’s a tremendous economic development that is going to occur along the 16 interchanges of Corridor X … It’s going to be a tremendous boost to an area that needs it badly.”

The Birmingham Congressman says it’s the task of community and business leaders to determine how best that can happen: what should get developed and what shouldn’t. To help in the process, he says, there’s a $90,000 federal grant for the Birmingham Regional Planning Commission to look at economic development adjacent to the corridor.

One automobile supplier who had already approached Alabama Development officials — Piqua Technologies — was looking for a piece of land near a big highway.

During negotiations, Piqua’s Ralph Marratta was given an Alabama roadmap that featured a dotted line between Jasper and Birmingham. The state officials said the highway under construction would eventually be a future interstate. He passed the word onto his Japanese managers…

“…and when I told them it would be an interstate’you know, (they said) ‘okay okay. Which one,’ (and I said) ‘I don’t know (laughs) maybe XX for all I know… That’s what we looked at.”

Piqua chose Jasper as a site for their new plant, which will fabricate foam, rubber and plastic film for the Honda plant in Lincoln and Hyundai in Montgomery. At full capacity, Piqua’s plant is expected to employ as many as 225 workers.

“They liked the fact that it’ll be an interstate directly from Jasper to Montgomery and from Jasper to Lincoln, because that’s where they supply.”

Jasper Mayor Don Goetz was in on the negotiations.

“…if they had to use two-lane and four-lane roads, they wouldn’t have been interested at all.”

((SFX)) Corridor X sounds, cars and trucks moving along.

State leaders and development officials hope the new interstate will make the region more connected, and ready to grow. And they hope businesses will line up along the interstate bringing with them money and jobs.

It is an economic development shift with big implications for businesses along the old Highway 78. The likely scenario: fewer customers, less money ‘ and worst case ‘ signs that say closed.