State Transportation Director John Cooper cut the ceremonial ribbon with a pair of giant scissors, and a short time later barricades were removed, opening the roads to the public for the first time.
Into the distance beyond a portable stage (towed in for the occasion) stretched twin gravel tracks. They eventually will become the parkway’s final leg, connecting Interstate 20 in eastern Oxford with U.S. 431 in northern Anniston, traversing McClellan. When finished, the entire project will have cost more than $160 million and taken decades of planning, politicking and paving.
“I see this roadway as a catalyst for our county,” said Brian Rosenbalm, Calhoun County engineer. “It brings about a sudden impact and I believe that in just a few short years, we will see the development of McClellan into an industrial center.”
After the ceremony, lines of curious motorists putted up the parkway’s incline from Golden Springs, emerging roughly 15 minutes later at Alabama 21 after following the 9-mile route through the fort.
Trees line the scenic Veterans Memorial Parkway that Anniston’s leaders hope will entice businesses to settle at McClellan, bringing with them tax dollars and jobs.
The road, which has been 10 years in the making, is cut into Mount Royal, which rises 1,519 feet on the left and 1,448 feet on the right. But beauty isn’t what most residents have been anticipating. The parkway offers a quick route from Interstate 20 to the interior of McClellan, and some commuters are hoping to use it as a fast route to bypass the traffic of Quintard Avenue.
Unless their destination is on McClellan, though, the route may not save them time. The route from Henry Street to 10th Street to Quintard Avenue and up to the intersection of Summerall Gate Road and McClellan Boulevard is 6.6 miles, as measured on an online map. The route from Veterans Memorial Parkway to the new Iron Mountain Road to Bain’s Gap Road to Summerall Gate Road and McClellan Boulevard is 8.9 miles.
However, driving the winding road through McClellan does have its advantages – its beautiful, natural scenery and its dearth of traffic lights.
The parkway is completely new, and much of the connecting road through McClellan including parts of Iron Mountain Road and Bains Gap Road, has been repaved. Bain’s Gap Road has been done in the last few months, after Anniston’s Director of Public Works Bob Dean found out the road would be a connector for the parkway. The road had been neglected and was in bad shape four months ago, Dean said.
“We couldn’t even patch it,” he said. “I took my hand and was pulling chunks out.”
Now, after fixing foundation problems and completely repaving it, Dean said, Bains Gap where it intersects with Summerall Gate is probably the best-built road in the county.
Summerall Gate Road is scheduled to be repaved in the upcoming year.
The route along the parkway also has some disadvantages – the road is two lanes and 35 miles per hour through McClellan. In addition, there are no lights along the road for nighttime travel and according to Alabama Department of Transportation representative DeJarvis Leonard, there are no plans for any at this time.
The city has installed signs at all the intersections in McClellan that direct travelers to Alabama 21. The one intersection that is missing a sign is at the parkway and Iron Mountain Road. The Alabama Department of Transportation has nixed placing a sign there, Dean said.
It’s been an expensive project. So far, ALDOT has paid $112 million to connect I-20 to McClellan. The latest project, paving from Choccolocco to Iron Mountain Road, cost $13.7 million.
Veterans Memorial Parkway will eventually allow traffic to drive straight through to Alabama 21 and U.S. 431, but that last leg of the road isn’t scheduled to open until late 2013.