Calls for I-565 widening grow louder, proposals include raising gas tax to pay for it

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Interstate 565 sees about 60,000 cars a day, and for parts of the day, its four lanes aren’t enough to keep traffic flowing.

Now, with the announcement Toyota and Mazda will build a plant off I-565, things are bound to get more crowded.

Political figures around North Alabama say they’ve taken notice.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, sent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey a letter last week, urging her to support the widening of I-565, AL.com reported.

Clayton Hinchman, who’s challenging Brooks for the GOP nomination for the 5th District Congressional seat, agrees 565 should be widened but says Brooks’ inability to get along with local, state or federal officials lawmakers has hampered the project.

Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, says an overcrowded I-565 is a regional problem, not simply an issue of getting to and from Morgan County.

“Because of the Toyota announcement, 565 is moving up in priority because ALDOT (the Alabama Department of Transportation) realizes you’re going to have more and more traffic on that road,” Orr said.

Gov. Kay Ivey was in Huntsville Monday saying she supports widening I-565, but she added the issue needs to be studied to ensure it’s cost-effective plan.

“Now I know there’s been some talk lately, especially in this neck of the woods about the widening of I-565, and to hear some folks tell it, you’d never know that project was even on our radar screen,” the governor said. “But it is. And has been for quite some time.”

It won’t be cheap.

“The cost of expanding I-565 to six lanes from Interstate 65 all the way to Wall Triana is approximately $100 million,” Orr said.

Ivey’s GOP rival for governor, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle says the project will take time.

“The thing that we have to realize is that if we had the money today, to widen I-565, it would be 2028 by the time we’re actually riding on that improvement,” Battle said. “We need to have some vision and we need to start working on it now.”

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, has helped lead the call for increased infrastructure funding through an increase in the state’s gas tax or related fees.

The Alabama gas tax is 18 cents a gallon and the last time it was raised was 1992.

A measure in the Alabama House in 2017 would have raised the gas tax by 9 cents by 2024, but the bill died.

McCutcheon said the effort isn’t over because the state’s needs are obvious. He said challenges remain, like how the money would be divided among Alabama’s counties and if there is a more attractive funding source than a straight gas tax.

“The bottom line is, if Washington moves forward with some type of infrastructure, national infrastructure package, it’s going to be a match-type program, and we sure want to be poised and be ready to be able to make a match so we don’t lose out on any federal dollars,” McCutcheon said. “The need is there, there’s no doubt about the need.”

An increase could change the landscape, Orr says.

“The debate regarding a statewide gas tax will happen next year. However, if it passes, I think that 565’s likelihood of getting addressed almost immediately go up considerably,” he said.

The Alabama Department of Transportation said in a statement, it has, “I-565 divided into two sections for purposes of future projects to construct additional lanes:

I-565 from Greenbrier Road to Wall-Triana Highway. Average daily traffic: 53,360

I-565 from I-65 to Greenbrier Road. Average daily traffic: 58,750

"We are actively looking at options for I-565 within the scope of budget limitations and other projects across the entire state,” a DOT spokesman said.