Anniston, Weaver officials hope Alabama 21 traffic will attract business
by Brian Anderson

Eddie Burkhalter
Jan 15, 2014 | 5164 views |  0 comments | 94 94 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rush hour traffic on Alabama 21 Wednesday evening. Photo by Bill Wilson.
Rush hour traffic on Alabama 21 Wednesday evening. Photo by Bill Wilson.
WEAVER – Steve and Rose Borrelli remember when the rush-hour traffic on Alabama 21 was backed-up for a mile.

In 1995, the owners of Bo’s Glass moved their business from Jacksonville to the highway south of town to be closer to Fort McClellan. At the time, Rose said, evening traffic leaving the fort made the area north of Anniston prime real estate for restaurants and stores.

“Most of the places didn’t make it,” Steve said Wednesday about the exodus of businesses from the area after the fort’s 1999 closure. “Things kind of came to a standstill.”

It’s not hard to see the remains of a thriving business district north of McClellan and Lenlock on the highway. Abandoned buildings and long-faded signs with names like Lee’s BBQ and One More Time Thrift Shop litter the landscape. But Anniston and Weaver officials are banking on the completion of the Veterans Memorial Parkway and the development of the McClellan Industrial Park to bring life back to the area again. This week, the Weaver City Council passed a resolution seeking to annex a half-mile stretch of the highway north of Anniston’s city limits, which Mayor Wayne Willis believes will be the city’s best bet to gain significant retail growth.

“I’d love for a big-box store like a Costco to move in there,” Willis said about the stretch of highway near Heroes American Bar and Grille, a restaurant annexed into Weaver last year. “That’s where I see traffic really picking up.”

Sections of Alabama 21 in the north part of Anniston already see significant traffic, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation. A traffic counter on the highway at Summerall Gate Road across the street from Anniston Middle School recorded an average of more than 32,000 trips a day in 2011. Interstate 20 near the Oxford Exchange, by comparison, saw an average of 37,810 trips a day in the same year.

Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart and City Manager Brian Johnson told The Star earlier this month they believe the city’s best spot to attract business will be along the stretches of Alabama 21 north of the middle school and along an area owned by the McClellan Development Authority. The completed parkway will have interchanges with Alabama 21 and U.S. 431 in that area.

But rerouting traffic doesn’t necessarily mean more people are driving to any location, said Jack Plunk, a principal planner with the East Alabama Regional Development and Planning Commission. Plunk said if any highway is expected to get busier because of the opening, it would be U.S. 431, which drivers could get to from the bypass without going through Anniston. If anything, he said, traffic north of Anniston on Alabama 21 would likely see a small decrease.

“You don’t have more drivers without increasing the population or developing business,” said Plunk, noting that traffic research hadn’t been done for the area. “Right now there aren’t any significant residential or business developments that I’m aware of that would change that.”

It might be a long time before such development happens. Willis said it’ll likely be years before the land on Alabama 21 that Weaver hopes to annex can be developed. But while the outskirts of Weaver might not see a boom anytime soon, Willis said he thinks the bypass can be a boost for downtown Weaver. The Industrial Access Road project will extend Iron Mountain Road through McClellan, which will lead drivers directly to Weaver’s city limits.

“I think anyone going to Atlanta from Ohatchee or Wellington is going to go right through downtown,” Willis said. “I think traffic will double.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

Editor's note: This story has been modified from its original version to remove the name of a business that was incorrectly listed as abandoned.

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