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Widening of I-565 now an issue in Alabama governor’s race, but state DOT records say help is a long way off

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Frustrated commuters who regularly drive in heavy traffic on I-565 may be relieved to hear those traffic problems are now an issue in the Alabama governor’s race.

But Alabama Department of Transportation records – so far – suggest it could be a long time before any relief is delivered.

The timing will grow in importance since the Toyota-Mazda plant will be located off I-565. That means some 4,000 workers will be added to the traffic flow in the coming years.

Gov. Kay Ivey told a Huntsville luncheon audience in early April she was aware that I-565 needed to be widened.

“Improving your commute on I-565 is important and it is a priority for this governor and I will see it through, you have my commitment on that,” she said.

The Alabama 2018 primary elections are June 5 and a statewide poll from April showed Ivey with a solid lead over second-place challenger Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

Battle cited the need to widen I-565 during a ribbon cutting event at the GE Aviation facility Wednesday, calling out to Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, that he’d work with Orr to improve conditions on I-565. He also expressed sympathy for GE workers who have to deal with the daily commute.

“Arthur – 565 is going to be a key for us – we’re going to have to take care of 565,” Battle said.

Ivey was sitting right behind him.

She went back to the mike immediately after Battle – even though she’d delivered her prepared remarks before him. She recalled her pledge at the Huntsville luncheon last month and said work on an interchange for Greenbrier Road was currently being bid.

“I-565 is a high priority,” the governor said.

Ivey was asked about taking back the mike and said she wanted to “clear the air,” because she’d made the announcement that I-565 was a “high priority” for her.

But Alabama Department of Transportation planning records located by WHNT News 19 don’t reflect that priority, at least not at this point.

Current planning for widening I-565 has construction dates far into the future: Including 2043 for adding lanes from Greenbrier Road to the Madison County line;  2046 for adding lanes east of I-65 to Greenbrier Road, and 2050 for adding east and westbound lanes from the Madison County line to east of Wall-Triana Highway.

We asked the governor how that schedule fits into the talk of priorities.

“It means we’re going to do it as fast as we can, but it’s a big project and you’ve got to plan well,” Ivey said. “And 565 will be addressed, in a timely fashion, and you have to plan to make monies available, because there’s not a bucket of money just sitting there.”

The Governor’s Office also said the Alabama DOT project planning list WHNT found online reflects DOT priorities based on 2016 funding projections. They said today they expect the DOT to update that list and the I-565 target dates.

Here’s the statement from Ivey’s office.

“Even before the Toyota-Mazda announcement, ALDOT expressed the understanding that these projects would have to move forward sooner than what is reflected in the schedule. The schedule available online is based on 2016 ability to fund projects.

“This does not mean that ALDOT is not looking for ways to move those projects forward sooner. ALDOT is looking at any and all options to improve capacity on I-565 within their funding capability and are working toward our goal of starting a project to improve the Greenbrier interchange, a critical point along this corridor and a nexus for the developing area, in late summer or early fall.”

But for now, there is no new timetable for work on I-565 and until the money can be found, the traffic problems are expected to grow.