The Veterans Memorial Parkway project began in 1999. Since then:
Anniston has had four mayors.
Oxford’s population has grown from 14,000 to 21,200.
Anniston’s population has decreased from 24,000 to 22,900.
The Crimson Tide has won three national championships.
The Tigers have won one.
Anniston is nearing completion of a new judicial complex.
The Army and Westinghouse began destroying Anniston’s cache of Cold War-era chemical weapons.
A landmark environmental-pollution lawsuit pumped millions into the hands of Anniston residents.
The Army and Westinghouse destroyed all 661,529 munitions in Anniston’s chemical-weapons cache.
By and large, Anniston’s PCBs- and lead-contaminated properties have been cleaned up.
Anniston’s tallest building burned.
Oxford opened Oxford Exchange, tore down a historic Native American burial mound, started and stopped a youth sports complex — because, in part, Indian remains were unearthed at the site — became home to more hotels than Las Vegas, enlarged its high school, built a new city hall, police station and library, re-elected Mayor Leon Smith four times and awaits the opening of the county’s first Publix, if the sinkhole doesn’t claim it first.
Anniston took part in an important remembrance of the 1961 Freedom Rider bus burning.
The former Fort McClellan, which closed the same year as the parkway project began, has had umpteen different redevelopment authorities.
Anniston’s tallest building, now the Watermark Tower, was renovated and reborn.
At least three banks have built impressive buildings in Anniston: Regions, NobleBank and Southern States. Another, Wachovia, is in the works.
At Jacksonville State, the university: (A.) enlarged its football stadium; (B.) began its first doctoral program; and (C.) kicked off a significant capital campaign to fund campus-wide projects.
At the former fort, Anniston has opened: (A.) a youth baseball complex; (B.) a youth soccer complex; (C.) the state’s top-ranked aquatic and fitness center.
And, finally, Anniston has been visited by a former U.S. president (Jimmy Carter), hosted a presidential candidate (Herman Cain), lost a police officer (Justin Sollohub) and gained an invaluable ecotourism site (the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail).
A lot has happened since 1999.
Finishing the parkway isn’t on that exhaustive list.
If we want to play the blame game, culprits are numerous: the slow-footed Alabama Department of Transportation; the original contractor, which ALDOT fired; the disobliging weather; politicians (in Montgomery and Washington) who’ve often been stingy with funding; and Anniston’s luck, if you’re into such quackery.
Money for paving the road’s unfinished second half is in hand, but now ALDOT says it may not be finished until early 2015. Two more years, or more. It also means this invaluable seven-mile, limited-access road from Interstate 20 to Alabama 21 — this economic goldmine — will have taken at least 16 years to finish.
I’ll make a bet with you: You and I will drive on a finished parkway, but it won’t be early in 2015. Alas, pessimism is the wise choice.
Let’s face it; the parkway has become the most talked about, written about, anticipated road in the history of Anniston, if not the county. (I-20 being its only competitor.) The 2011 opening of the parkway’s first half, from Oxford to Iron Mountain Road, has only piqued our interest. It has taken on a life of its own. It has proponents (McClellan advocates) and critics (downtown Anniston defenders). It is a mythical “imagine when” part of Anniston: Imagine when you can get from I-20 to McClellan in minutes; imagine when getting to Oxford’s shopping areas doesn’t include trudging through Quintard’s red lights; imagine when McClellan redevelopment is kick-started.
Annistonians of a certain age can remember when Quintard wasn’t a multi-lane road (with several names) from Oxford to Jacksonville. In 1942, it was big news when the city commission OK’d the building of the “Quintard Avenue military highway project,” which joined Quintard from 18th Street to Fort McClellan’s Summerall Gate.
Likewise, Annistonians during World War I eagerly anticipated construction of the “brick pike” between the city and McClellan, then in its infancy.
Neither of those took 16 years to build. And neither of those were written about, talked about or anticipated as much as Veterans Memorial Parkway.
We will rejoice at the parkway’s ribbon-cutting, whenever it comes. Until then, all we can do is imagine.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.