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The New Mobile Bypass Makes the Trip Through Mobile to the Gulf So Much Easier

by Mac Gordon

Donuts on Cake

Mississippi vacationers’ frustration with the annual traversal through Mobile on the way to Gulf of Mexico beaches is finished.

Travelers can sing farewell to that part of the trip that formerly carried them past Lucedale on U.S. 98 through the gritty innards of Mobile, down to interstate highways 65 and 10.

This I discovered recently on my first trek through that area in a year. I was caught unawares traveling southeast toward Mobile, when suddenly thrust onto the new Alabama 158 bypass around Wilmer, Semmes and the section of Mobile that always caused beaucoup heartburn. The bypass opened in October.

Surely you recall the old route past the wonderful fruit and vegetable stand at Wilmer, then into Semmes and several miles through urban Mobile’s guts until you reached I-65 south and on to I-10 east or west. (I guess for nostalgia’s sake and a desire to hit Wilmer’s famous fruit stand, you can still take that route.)

I’ve asserted for years that the state of Alabama was derelict in not establishing a Mobile bypass. Several years ago on this subject, I wrote, “There is no passage in this part of America more in need of a bypass arrangement than this one.

“The state of Alabama must shoulder the blame for this monumental oversight that is the reason for dozens of accidents annually and time lost by motorists.”

The bypass was some 20 years in the making and suffered countless delays in construction, many of the environmental flavor.

“This new controlled access route will alleviate some of the stop-and-go traffic that creates variable speeds, resulting in increased crashes,” said Alabama Department of Transportation engineer Jenifer Eubanks in a release.

In 2007, ALDOT began work on the first of several projects to move most of the traffic off Highway 98 to a safer, four-lane divided facility slightly north of the existing route. The first project was eight miles long and crossed numerous wetlands and streams.

The project became a source of construction- and stormwater-related pollution, as the pristine beaches of the Escatawpa River became covered with a film of clay and Big Creek Lake lost its credibility for providing safe drinking water to Mobile, ALDOT said.

The undertaking faced several lawsuits, regulatory enforcement actions and a frustrated public. After millions of dollars were spent on remediation, restoration and regaining regulatory compliance, funding to complete the corridor was no longer available. This forced the project’s indefinite postponement—-once for a decade.

This new route should save 30-45 minutes on trips to and from the Gulf beaches of Alabama and Florida. Of course, you’d save more time and money with journeys to the flourishing Mississippi coastal towns.

We have traditionally used three routes going between homes in Mississippi and Georgia, one through Jackson, Meridian and Montgomery (on Hwy. 80) to Georgia; and another across U.S. 84 east to Dothan, Al, and then into Georgia.

The third option, U.S. 98 to Lucedale, Mobile and I-10 east, had become unworkable, but with this new $200 million (the final funding was a $65 million BP settlement payout), 14-mile bypass, whose eastern terminus is at Saraland and the western at Semmes, it’s back in play.

Without agreements on the myriad environmental concerns, the pathway’s opening could have been delayed even longer, said Mobile City Commissioner Connie Hudson.

“They’ve really gone above and beyond to try to protect the waterways that drain into the Big Creek Lake, which is our water reservoir, so I think everybody is satisfied,” Hudson said. “The environmentalists are satisfied that all of the precautions have been taken and now we have this beautiful new road.”

Donuts on Cake
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