A city is only as sound as its bones. Anniston’s leaders say they’re prepared to be innovative to build its communications and transportation infrastructure into a 21st-century model.
The city’s circulatory and nerve systems will get an upgrade in the next 20 to 30 years — and the framework of that upgrade is already heading toward the future.
What is probable for the city are new, locally grown ways to communicate, travel and live. Each concept will make Anniston competitive in the world market.
As gas prices rise, innovations in technology will make the video-conferene a viable alternative to getting behind the wheel. When officials do hit the road, they’ll do so in energy-efficient vehicles on the Eastern Parkway, which will cut rush hour drive time from Interstate 20 to McClellan from 30 minutes to around seven.
State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, called fiber optics, the Eastern Parkway and “going green” initiatives essential to the future of Anniston. Everything needs to fall into place at once to make Anniston’s future a bright one.
With the closing of Fort McClellan in 1999, the start up of a controversial chemical weapons incinerator and a struggle against industrial pollution, the perception of Anniston’s health and vitality took some hits.
Businesses looked elsewhere, often to Oxford, sometimes to Jacksonville, or closed forever. That I-20 corridor led to a retail and dining boom in Oxford, which pumped millions into its infrastructure in an open-for-business march along the interstate.
Anniston officials say it’s their town’s turn to work on the arteries and skeletal structure that makes a city grow in a healthy, sustainable way.
Going green and looking familiar? Anniston will look surprisingly familiar in 20 to 30 years.
City and Calhoun County officials recently embarked on a campaign to “go green,” which will involve recycling and energy and fuel efficiency.
The only change may be that residents don’t detect any change at all.
City officials were recently among the first in the country to make their courthouse more energy efficient by adhering to improved heating, cooling and lighting regulations. They will apply these standards to each city building in the coming years.
The courthouse “looks just like it did years ago,” said Calhoun County Commissioner Robert Downing. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re off to a good start.”
Additionally, new businesses are springing up to help Anniston along with its quest to become environmentally friendly.
Dick Anderson at Huron Valley Steel said his business breaks down Army tanks and vehicles and recycles the scrap metal for other products to be used locally. Recycling saves approximately 75 percent to 95 percent more energy than mining, Anderson said.
“We have a growing business in Anniston,” he said. “The business climate here is good, and we have a good, viable workforce, so I think you’ll see a lot more businesses like mine cropping up.”
County officials are also contracting with Anniston
businesses to recycle kitchen waste into biofuel for the county’s diesel vehicles. With gas prices tending to rise, and forecasters predicting no relief in sight, city officials are also looking to trade their gas guzzling vehicles for new fleets of energy-efficient cars and electronic carts.
Highway to the future
Construction is well under way on the Eastern Parkway, which will offer travelers a direct route from Birmingham and Atlanta to north Anniston and McClellan.
If the project — scheduled for Phase 1 completion in 2010 — is a success, it will mean the revitalization of a struggling city.
“In 20 years, I see subdivisions, communities, schools, retailers, parks, you name it,” said Kevin Miller, whose childhood home sits at the intersection of the parkway’s connector in Golden Springs.
“It could really be a home run for Anniston.”
While rejuvenation seems plausible, even likely, some Anniston residents worry the final lick for the wounded city may be just one slip up away.
The city has received enough funding to complete the parkway’s connection to McClellan — up to Lake Yahou Road. But officials have not identified funding for the remainder of the project — tens of millions of dollars.
“It’ll be the most expensive cul-de-sac in the world. A road to nowhere,” said Bill Gann, who owns an empty lot on the parkway.
Anniston leaders spend their days in meetings brainstorming ideas for funding, including the implementation of local taxes, state funding or direct contributions.
For many residents one thing is certain: The parkway will either put Anniston back on the map or wipe it off for good.
Connecting to the world
Imagine a virtual laboratory where Anniston school children dissect frogs online under the close supervision of Nobel prize-winning scientists.
Picture elementary students speaking Japanese with Pacific pen pals in preparation for managerial positions at the Honda plant.
And, if you can, envision technology that will allow teachers to substitute for one another via Webcam, so students don’t miss a day of work.
The future of communication in Anniston will begin with its youth. But it won’t end there.
David Land, director of technology for Anniston City Schools, is already at work upgrading the system’s slow-speed Internet connection to a faster fiber optics line.
“If you use a regular provider, like you have a network with the diameter of about a toothpick,” Land said. “With fiber optics, you’re talking about the diameter of a water hose.
“One day, we’ll have a connection the size of a trashcan lid.”
Anniston attorney Donald Stewart contributed much of the $1.4 million needed to get fiber optics connections into school computer labs.
During the next decade, Anniston officials will make fiber optics available to all city employees, linking hospital workers, planners and surveyors to their intellectual counterparts across the globe.
“Fiber optics is the future,” Stewart said. “It will connect Anniston with the outside world.”
City leaders are dreaming of high-speed uploads, video conferencing and other innovations that will push Anniston onto the world stage.
Anniston may be landlocked, but its future in communications will spread far beyond any body of water.