When Bryan Feazell bought Smith Sales two months ago, the view from his office was simple.
Cars would whiz by on Alabama 21, a little too fast for the taste of a businessman looking for customers for his covered and uncovered truck trailers. Across the road stood a wall of pine trees.
Just after Thanksgiving, work crews appeared across the highway, clearing land. Now there’s a broad highway of mud that stretches back into the forests of Fort McClellan. Some time in 2020, it will become a true highway — an extension of Iron Mountain Road, connecting the “midway” area of Alabama 21 directly to Veterans Memorial Parkway.
“If there’s a stoplight there, I think it will be good for me,” said Feazell. “If there’s not a stoplight, it’s going to be a mess.”
The clearing near Feazell’s store is perhaps the first clear sign that work has begun on the Iron Mountain extension, a project that local officials have been plugging away on for years.
When completed, the road will allow people to turn directly off Veterans Memorial Parkway — the $164 million highway through the former Army base that opened three years ago — and zip past McClellan’s industrial parks to Alabama 21. It’s part of a broader vision local officials have long had for the former base, a vision in which industry flourishes on McClellan because of easy access to Interstate 20.
Now that the path of the road is visible, it’s also easy to see the effect the road could have off the former base.
“I’m ready for it,” said Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis. “I’ve been ready for it for years.”
The road would mean a much shorter drive from Weaver, population 3,064, to Oxford or I-20. Willis said he expects traffic through the town to pick up significantly when the road is complete, with commuters from Alexandria and Ohatchee heading through to reach Anniston and Oxford.
He said he’s already used the future road in his pitch to businesses, such as the gun shop Exile Armory. And he says the four empty storefronts in town would be filled now if the road had been completed three years ago, when he originally expected it.
“That was before someone decided a foxhole is historic,” Willis said.
Jacksonville, too, expects the road to eventually affect its fortunes as well. Mayor Johnny Smith said improved access to the interstate would likely help McClellan attract more industries. Getting to Jacksonville from the industrial area would also be quicker.
“As industries grow out there, Jacksonville will probably look like a good place for those workers to live,” he said.
The road would also give Jacksonville residents a straighter shot to the shops in Oxford. Officials in Anniston, which is paying for the construction, say they’re not worried about losing traffic on Quintard Avenue, the city’s main drag.
“If it was going to happen, it would have happened when the Eastern Bypass opened,” said city engineer Lance Armbrester. (During its development, Veterans Memorial Parkway was often called the Eastern Bypass.)
Traffic on Quintard dropped by about one-fifth after the Parkway opened, though city officials said much of the loss was likely due to transfer trucks or other through-traffic that didn’t significantly hurt business.
Feazell, the store owner, said a stoplight at the Iron Mountain intersection would probably help his business’s visibility. Armbrester said drivers shouldn’t expect a light immediately after the road opens.
“Not initially,” he said. “The sequence of events with ALDOT (the state department of transportation) is that there needs to be traffic to warrant a signal, and then an analysis is done.”
Armbrester said there will be turn lanes added to 21.
Work on the road is expected to end in summer of 2020.