New toll road possible for Alabama, Northwest Florida

| 5/8/2008

A private, nonprofit corporation called Focus 2000 of the Wiregrass is proposing to build a new toll road from Montgomery, AL, to Panama City, FL.

The exact route has not yet been determined. Some officials say the proposed road will serve as a hurricane evacuation route as well as an economic-development corridor.

“For years we’ve been trying to get a connector road from our town, which is Dothan, down to Interstate 10,” Mark Culver, director of the Houston County, AL, Board of Commissioners, told Land Line on Thursday, May 8.

A total of six county commissions – three on each side of the state line – would have to approve resolutions of support before the corporation would be allowed to break ground.

Culver says his commission is ready to endorse the project at an upcoming meeting.

Commissioners in Washington County, FL, want some time to gauge public opinion. They have scheduled a public hearing to begin at 9 a.m., May 15, at the Washington County Annex in Chipley, FL, for their residents to air concerns.

Washington County Manager Peter Hervert told Land Line that the project will not involve federal or state tax dollars, at least on the Florida side.

Culver said Alabama has used federal funds on environmental studies.

Other jurisdictions affected by the proposal are Dale and Geneva counties on the Alabama side and Jackson and Bay counties on the Florida side.

Officials say Focus 2000 of the Wiregrass intends to finance and build the roadway and keep the toll revenue for 30 years. After that, control would be transferred to the state.

“This is a private enterprise proposal not the FDOT,” Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Tommie Speights told Land Line via e-mail.

Supporters of the toll road say there is a need for an interstate-quality evacuation route during hurricane events as well as a way to generate economic activity.

Officials with Florida’s Great Northwest, an economic council involving 16 counties stated Monday, May 5, that the roadway will generate commerce and provide “the missing piece of the infrastructure puzzle” in the region.

– By David Tanner, staff writer