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State halting work on highway near Flomaton

By By Robert Blankenship
Special to the Advance
The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is abandoning a four-laning project along Hwy. 31 between Brewton and Flomaton due to problems obtaining certain tracts of property.
According to ALDOT, the project was derailed due to three tracts of were not approved for condemnation by former Probate Judge Devon Wiggins.
This project would have meant that Hwy. 31 would be four-laned from the CSX Railroad Bridge north of Flomaton to Fannie Road. But, ALDOT said three tracts of land will keep the project from moving forward.
In a letter written to Escambia County Commission Chairman Larry White and read during Monday's meeting, ALDOT officials said they had no choice but to abandon the project.
"We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to acquire the final three tracts of right-of-way necessary for the construction of this project. The probate judge, in office at that time, refused to allow us to condemn these three tracts. He had allowed condemnation of six other tracts of property on this project, but refused to allow us to condemn these three tracts. We are at an impasse and have no other alternative than to abandon this project," said R.F. Poiroux, ALDOT division engineer.
The end of the project means that Hwy. 31 will continue to be a two-lane highway for several miles between Brewton and Flomaton.
"When construction is completed on either side of the project, we will be forced to merge all traffic onto the existing two-lane section of U.S. 31 beginning south of the CSX Railroad Bridge and ending south of Little Escambia Creek," Poiroux said.
White said he was disappointed that the project will not be completed and that he was concerned that the stretch of road will continue to be a troubled area in terms of vehicle accidents.
"I am very disappointed that the project will not be completed," White said. "This short stretch of Hwy. 31 has been one of most dangerous sections in our county. I am disappointed the project is being abandoned," he said.
ALDOT officials said they did not have any other alternatives than to shut down the project.
"It is very unfortunate for the citizens of Escambia County that we have to take this action, but we have no other alternative," Poiroux said.
Despite the problems east of Flomaton, White said plans are proceeding in the four-laning of Hwy. 31 between Flomaton and Atmore and that he hoped residents would see that work get underway within the next few years. When that work is completed, the abandoned stretch will be the only part of Hwy. 31, between Brewton and Atmore that is not four-laned.
Other items discussed by the commission during Monday's meeting included:
"In the case of an emergency we want to have a county-wide plan," Kent said. "We want local counties and cities to be prepared. Hopefully, we are doing all of this for something that will never happen."
Kent said even if Escambia County is not directly targeted by terrorism, it could be effected indirectly if cities such as Atlanta or Mobile are targeted and that local agencies should be prepared.
Kent said a countywide meeting for first responders and other officials will be held Monday, June 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Poarch Creek Tribal Auditorium to discuss the county's bioterrorism plan;
"We want to teach kids that there are better things to do than sell drugs," McKenzie said. "This trend must stop; we must get kids off of the streets and get them going in the right direction."
McKenzie said the program would allow classrooms that could be used for education and other activities and help get kids off the street.
McKenzie said the NAACP was receiving help in applying for the grant from the Escambia County District Attorney's Office. Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith was on hand during the meeting and said he would support any effort to rid the county of drugs.
"I'm all for anything that will get people out of the jailhouse and out of trouble," Smith said. "The lives of our young people is our first priority and education is the number one deterrent (from drug use)."
Commissioner Junior Hall agreed that the county should support the NAACP's efforts.
"There are so many kids who are asking for help and people just don't realize it," Hall said. "I hope this program would reach kids before they get to the D.A.'s office."
The commission took no action on the matter;
The commission would have to authorize a personnel change and agreed to table the matter until the June 23 meeting.