HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - As 2018 winds down, city leaders across the Tennessee Valley are looking ahead to the big things in store in the new year.
From infrastructure improvements, to boosting recreation, the mayors in Huntsville and Athens are highlighting what’s in the pipeline in 2019.
There's no denying that 2018 was a great year for economic development in North Alabama and now, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks are gearing up for a successful, busy new year.
"The great thing about it is, we've been happy to have growth. And with growth, we've been able to grow our infrastructure- the Northern Bypass, Mastin Lake overpass will be starting this year, Cecil Ashburn will be starting and finishing in 10 months. All the great things that need to happen, we're putting the foundation pieces in place," Mayor Battle said.
Beyond that, the city is working towards making quality of life improvements.
"We're able to add to our parks and recreation. You'll see sand volleyball courts going up at John Hunt Park and a cross country running trail.. And that's going to be key. Over the next few years, we'll be doing workforce recruitment, bringing people in, wanting them to be a part of our community," Mayor Battle added.
There will be lots of other projects underway in the Rocket City during the coming year.
“We’ll be seeing a lot of orange cones out here. We were just talking about how we have construction projects in the downtown area and there may be as many as six cranes up over Huntsville. That’s a neat thing to look at and the greater thing is that when we’re finished, we’ll have a great quality of life. We’ll have an even better city that’s very attractive to a lot of people. We’ll be able to keep up with our infrastructure and keep our 18-20 minute commute. We’ll be able to make this just as good a city tomorrow as it is today with a little bit of growth,”Mayor Battle stated.
In Athens, Mayor Marks says continued growth is happening on many levels.
“What great activity we have going on in North Alabama right now! From Nashville, to the Tennessee Valley, there’s just more happening than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. That’s a shout out to all of the mayors across the region for the collaborative effort that we have and when we pull together. An example is Polaris and more recently, Mazda Toyota. The great news of that is that we’re giving people the opportunity to have jobs, to feed and cloth their families and school their children and provide those kinds of activities,” he said.
Preparing for growth brings opportunities and challenges for the city.
“How do you spend money on the front end, betting on the revenue from the back end? One of the challenges we have is infrastructure and moving traffic. We’ve grown by about 5000 in our population since the last census and predicted to grow by another 10000 in the near future. With a brand new high school, new bible school, people are moving to our area,” he explained.
The city is “renovating and restoring” and looking at a new recreation facility, a $16 million facility at the sportsplex, as well as demolishing an old chicken plant to provide a central park area and maybe a dog park area and some opportunities for retail, the mayor added.
And there's lots of excitement surrounding the new $55 million Athens High School. The mayor says students, teachers and staff are getting ready to move into the new facility in a few weeks. Crews are putting the finishing touches on it.
“It’s attracting a lot of folks to our community. The housing market is booming. The retailers and the realtors are at the doors, saying we’re selling houses as fast as you can build them. That’s a great thing to have. We’re trying to plan and be proactive and look at the needs, as well as get the citizen input on how we keep our quality of life. How do we maintain the downtown function of an old city square? So there’s a lot good things going on and a lot of excitement,” Mayor Marks said.
The city is ready for 2019!
“It’s just a great energy right now and it’s exciting times and I think in 2019, we’ll just continue to blow the top off it. So stay tuned! It’ll be a great year,” the mayor added.
In Decatur, a recent announcement was made that a federal grant will fund a new overpass near the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant that’s currently under construction.
The $14.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will be used to build the bridge at the intersection of Alabama 20 and Bibb Garrett Road in Limestone County. The project also includes ramps, a new access road, improved highway lighting, and accommodations for safe pedestrian access.
“There will be deceleration and acceleration lanes to be able to access the overpass that will give you access to the north and south sides of Highway 20,” said Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling, who thanked the entire team of people who worked on the grant process.
Mayor Bowling said the city is excited about the opportunities the new project will bring to Highway 20.
“This area is the new Decatur but also there’s a safety factor to be able to have development here and be able to safely access them. We’ve had a number of fatalities here on this stretch of road and we’re frequently dealing with accidents so it’s a wonderful thing,” he stated out at the site on Friday.
The mayor says it’s the most important grant the city has received in decades.
“For what this does to be able to give us access to this development. For us to come up with those funds would have been very challenging. For the Department of Transportation to see the need is great. The first time we submitted, we won the grant! It’s very competitive. That is not the norm. We are very honored,” he said.
The announcement of the federal grant comes as cities in north Alabama are preparing to meet the future needs of the Toyota Mazda plant and its suppliers.
Decatur is now in the process of putting a zoning plan in place.
“This is probably the hottest intersection along Interstate 65. We know there’s going to be a lot of traffic coming to Mazda Toyota and the Tier 1 and Tier 2′s, everything that it’s going to take to support that. It’s going to be a great help but I really believe it’s going to be more about the development of this area,” Mayor Bowling explained.