For years, the interstate highway connection to Atlanta and Birmingham has helped lure industry, retail and jobs to the area. And with I-20 currently being widened to accommodate more traffic through the area, businesses and developers say the project could be a further economic boost.
The Alabama Department of Transportation started the approximately $39 million project to widen I-20 from four to six lanes in September last year. Contractors are expected to complete the work by the fall of 2013. The project covers 7.9 miles of I-20, from the Snow Creek Bridge in Oxford to the Cleburne County line. Many sections of I-20 through Birmingham and through Georgia to the Alabama line have already been similarly widened.
Due to the heavy traffic on I-20, business and industry have been drawn to the area — from large retail like the Oxford Exchange to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln.
Mark Morrison, spokesman for Honda Manufacturing, said the company considered several key factors when deciding where to locate its automobile plant, including workforce capabilities, logistical support and infrastructure.
“Certainly, the proximity to I-20 was a consideration,” Morrison said. “We are very happy with our decision.”
Morrison said the expansion of the interstate will only continue to benefit the plant and its 4,000 employees.
“We have hundreds of our associates who travel I-20 each day and their safety is very much on our minds,” Morrison said. “In addition, many of our suppliers transport parts using the interstate and we ship about 20 percent of vehicle production by truck.”
Tony Pugh, president of FabArc Steel in Oxford, also said the expansion project will benefit his company. FabArc specializes in structural steel fabrication and provides steel packages to auto manufacturers, medical office building manufacturers and others.
“It certainly is a benefit for us with the traffic passing to give us exposure,” Pugh said of the interstate. “The extra lanes are needed for the added volume of traffic we have and the volume will attract more industry and growth.”
Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said I-20 has been an economic stimulator for the area for years and is part of his organization’s strategy to lure industry to the county.
“Quite often we get proposals from industries wanting to be a certain distance from the interstate,” Hopper said.
He said whatever type of industry the development council tries to lure to the area, I-20 is usually a big asset in the negotiation process.
“Transportation is a tremendous amount of their strategy,” Hopper said. “And the six lanes are going to make it even easier for transport.”
Eric Brewer of WR Oxford, the developer behind the Oxford Commons shopping center, said I-20 was a major draw for the project, which will see a Publix grocery and other stores locate at the highway’s Exit 188.
“It was a combination of the traffic going by and being a region destination spot,” Brewer said.
Brewer said the expansion of the interstate will add to the site’s success in the coming years.
“Oh, absolutely … there will be easier access and increased traffic,” he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.