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Task force wants to open up Atmore with evacuation route, truck route

By By Sherry Digmon
Advance Staff Writer
All roads from Florida may not lead to Atmore, but they don't necessarily lead to Flomaton or Brewton either.
A newly formed task force met with Mayor Rodney Owens Monday to make sure Atmore is not left out of the mix when a hurricane evacuation route through Escambia County Ala. is discussed.
Three routes have been discussed. The one through Brewton comes with the highest price tag. That route involves four-laning the existing roadways from Highway 98 in Navarre, north to I-65. This would include four-laning highways 87 south and 87 north in Santa Rosa County and Highway 41 in Alabama.
The most talked about hurricane evacuation route is Fla. Highway 29 to Ala. Highway 113 to I-65. It appears to be the least expensive – at least for Florida – but it may not be the most effective.
Just before Fla. highways 29 and 97 intersect, a sign on 29 warns motorists, "Road subject to flooding." It's a warning for people traveling Highway 29 between Molino and Century.
During Hurricane Georges, Sen. Richard Shelby came through Atmore because Highway 29 and I-10 flooded, as did Century and Flomaton.
Another issue which should be considered is the area north of I-65, said Bob Jones, Atmore Industrial Development Board chairman. Fla. Highway 97 to Ala. Highway 21 opens commercial access to Monroe County. The other routes tend to end at I-65.
Jones also questioned why the evacuation route seemed to be an "either/or" situation.
Members of the Project Evacuation Task Force, which was formed to promote 113 as the route of choice, have said they support all three routes but would like to see the 113 route completed first.
Priorities set by the task force were:
* to work with Florida on getting Fla. Highway 97 four-laned;
n to try to get Highway 21 South out of Atmore four-laned. Work has already begun on three-laning the stretch of highway from South Main to the Florida line.
* to enlist the aid of the Poarch Creek Indians to improve Jack Springs Road. Atmore has two interstate interchanges, Highway 21 and Jack Springs Road, as well as a nearby interchange in Perdido.
* getting a study for a bypass/overpass around Atmore;
Swift asked Jones how he felt about a truck bypass, regardless of what Florida does.
Owens said a bypass would have several advantages, the most obvious being improved capacity during evacuations.
The phrase of choice in the meeting was "truck route" rather than "bypass."
In fact, whether or not Atmore gets the nod as the evacuation route, civic leaders will pursue the truck route.
One proposal brought the bypass west around town, near the Industrial Park. Another had the bypass using Cindebran Drive. Still another was east of town, near the John Deere place.
Owens said he could support a bypass but not one that was too far out of town.
The task force will work on the goals simultaneously.
Owens said he has heard, although unofficially, that the State of Alabama is not interested in improving 113 as a hurricane evacuation route. He added that though several people involved in the 113 project are from the Flomaton area, including Rep. Skippy White who is from Pollard, he would hope they would consider the best route based on its merit.
But Rep. White does not appear to be jumping on anybody's bandwagon, preferring instead to concentrate on the four-laning of Highway 31 from Flomaton to Atmore, which is in the five-year plan.
White said recently it's "unrealistic" to think the Alabama Department of Transportation is going to use all its money on an evacuation route, adding that the four-lane through the county is his priority.
White said he does agree with comments made in a Brewton meeting last week, that Flomaton is the most logical route. The four-lane right of way has been purchased.
White said that five-laning Highway 29 through Flomaton to 113 would help.
But his emphasis is on connecting one end of the county to the other.
He said preliminary engineering on Highway 31 from Atmore to Flomaton may begin this year
The Atmore task force will try to arrange a meeting with a couple of Florida legislators. Another county meeting is scheduled for next week, and a meeting set for March 1 will bring together all three task forces.
In addition, the task force plans to meet with PCI Tribal Chairman Eddie Tullis to coordinate efforts with the tribe.