When you are from where I’m from, it is perhaps hypocritical to be commenting on other states’ highway systems. But, that has never stopped me.
Despite my home state’s (Mississippi) transportation director’s pompous statement a few years back about how our highway system was “the best in the country,” we knew better. That state has a huge collection of some of the worst roads in America.
Georgia, meanwhile, has some of the best. I have been mightily impressed since moving here with this state’s system, even though I wrote a while back — and caught much grief over the statement — that I thought the four-laning of Highway 27 from Blakely to Cuthbert, an ongoing project, is a colossal waste of money due to the low traffic count. I see no sense in expanding that opinion today.
But I did not set out to write about the roads in Mississippi or Georgia. My current lament is Alabama’s.
I recently drove to South Mississippi determined to ascertain whether the use of U.S. 84 west of Dothan was a good idea or not. After all, it appeared to be a straight shot westward to my destination. I had been told several times, “Don’t do it,” but I can be a stubborn sort about such things, so I took out across Alabama the Beautiful via that route.
I found out all right — “don’t do it.” I won’t again. Actually, it took only the leg from Dothan to Evergreen to learn my lesson. U.S. 84 through Dothan and booming Enterprise brings you to a stop a dozen times or more due to traffic signals. After escaping Enterprise and driving on toward Opp and Andalusia and on through some distinctly rural areas, you discover that Alabama once had grandiose plans to four-lane 84 all the way to Evergreen, but apparently the money ran out and the project fizzled.
I took sound advice and did not even attempt to travel U.S. 84 west of Evergreen, so I grabbed I-65 there and drove toward Mobile. I don’t know whether heights give you the heebie-jeebies the way they do me, but that suspension-like bridge over the Mobile River is a real monster, enough said.
Interstate 65 took me to the cutoff at Mobile for U.S. 98 west, which is the real crux of this column. I simply cannot understand why the state of Alabama has never undertaken to build some sort of bypass from Mobile around Semmes and Wilmer, two small towns that you encounter as you travel west on U.S. 98 toward Mississippi. Thousands upon thousands of beach-bound motorists from throughout the South and Midwest must crawl through that route annually. It can be the bottleneck of all bottlenecks.
The high traffic count through those two small towns has evidently done little for them economically. I’m sure the fruit and boiled peanut stands like it, as do the many plant nurseries (I bought some vibrant fall tomato plants at one), but this is 2011 and can’t Alabama create a better travel experience? It’s way past time.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely. He writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.