Chamber supports the I-759 extension

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 The Gadsden/Etowah Chamber of Commerce recently passed a resolution proclaiming its support of the I-759 extension that local legislature have been pushing for. The resolution is as follows:

WHEREAS, business leaders and local government authorities have stated to the public and members of the board of The Chamber, Gadsden/Etowah County that the decision not to complete I-759 would have a negative impact to the quality of life and the ability to conduct commerce to not only residents of Etowah County, but all businesses and individuals that travel through the city of Gadsden; and

WHEREAS, original funding in the amount of $13.8 million and $1.2 million originated in the IS-TEA bill for the I-759 connector from George Wallace Drive (Alabama State Highway 291) to Meighan Boulevard (US Highway 431) at US Highway 278 intersect; and

WHEREAS, a “Limit on Obligation” reduced the original obligation to $10.4 million, of which $9 million was obligated to the I-759 bridge that extends over the Coosa River; and

WHEREAS, only approximately $7.7 million of the $9 million obligated was utilized for the construction of said bridge; and

WHEREAS, in a Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriations Bill an additional earmark in the amount in excess of $2.7 million was received to complete a Corridor Study and Final Design Phase and to begin right-of-way acquisition; and

WHEREAS, in August 2012 the FY2006 appropriation was lost as a result of the funds being unobligated, at which time the City of Gadsden learned that $244,000 remained in the project’s Preliminary Engineering budget, and $1,457,000 remained as “unobligated for any purpose”; and

WHEREAS, approximately $7 million has been removed from the total project earmarks, and there are currently no existing federal earmarks for transportation nor is there anticipated passage of a long-term Federal transportation bill within the next year; and

WHEREAS, the City of Gadsden is home to two regional medical care centers – Gadsden Regional Medical Center and Riverview Regional Medical Center – that are hubs to not only the largest employment industry sector in Etowah County, but also share critical care personnel such as cardiologists, many of which are required to respond between locations within 18 minutes or less; and

WHEREAS, Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) counts in 2012 at the end of I-759 was approximately 26,500 vehicles, on Meighan Boulevard was more than 35,000, on George Wallace Drive was approximately 19,500, and counts on adjacent residential streets in East Gadsden are reported to be increasing, creating unsafe conditions for residents; and

WHEREAS, the impacted area includes: two campuses of Gadsden State Community College with approximately 700 employees and 5,400 students, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. with approximately 1600 employees, Gadsden Regional Medical Center with approximately 1200 employees, and two major retail developments with an estimated total employment exceeding 1,000 employees; and

WHEREAS, local officials have been informed by the Alabama Department of Transportation leadership that the project was shelved as a “No Build” project and was considered to be “on a very high shelf” because there is no “reasonable, feasible alternate that will be accepted environmentally”; and

WHEREAS, the preferred route selected by the community and supported by the City of Gadsden has three (3) Section 4f impacts which are historically eligible areas of the Alabama School of Trades, Starnes Housing Project and a 1920s Residential Historic District; and

WHEREAS, according to an archeological report performed by the University of Alabama in 2004, the only impact to historical structures would be in the 1920s Residential Historic District, where approximately 20 houses would have to be removed, and the right-of-way acquisition would not include any contributing buildings in the Alabama School of Trades or Starnes Housing Project areas; and

WHEREAS, according to the Policy Paper on Section 4f, when a Section 4f eligible area is impacted by a planned route, an avoidance alternative must be found and evaluated, and such alternative option may be deemed “prudent and feasible” if it meets the original need and purpose of the project, and having exhausted all route options instead of progressing the planning state to mitigate impacts of the “preferred route”, the Alabama Department of Transportation announced the No Build option had been recommended and accepted; and

WHEREAS, the I-759 project was always intended to be a connector from Interstate 59 to US Highway 431 to build a main thoroughfare for commerce through a desirable route of transportation to enhance marketability of the county and region to industrial, commercial and hospitality prospects; and

WHEREAS, Mayor Sherman Guyton has stated that the Alabama Department of Transportation has budgeted $150 million a year over the next 10 years for capacity projects and said if Governor Robert Bentley and the legislative delegation “… make this a high enough priority, they can find $20 million to $25 million to get the next phase approved…” that progress can continue toward the result of completing the I-759 project through the final extension; and

WHEREAS, it is the determination of the Board of Directors of The Chamber, Gadsden/Etowah County that the completion of the I-759 project through the final extension to US Highway 431 is critical to creating a main thoroughfare for commerce that is critical to future growth of commercial, industrial and residential sectors; and

WHEREAS, it is the determination of the Board that completion of the project is also critical to public safety, health and livelihood of all residents, employees, employers and individuals commuting through the City of Gadsden.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Directors of The Chamber, Gadsden/Etowah County supports the City of Gadsden in the endeavor to secure funding that would remove the No Build option from the I-759 extension and reinstate progress toward the completion of said project; and

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the Board of Directors of The Chamber, Gadsden/Etowah County urges employers, employees, residents and commuters to contact their state legislators and Governor Robert Bentley to express their individual and/or collective support for removing the No Build option and the allocation of funding as requested by the City of Gadsden to move forward with the completion of the I-759 project.

Approved in Gadsden, Alabama on the twenty-sixth day of March, 2015.

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