Interstate 22 officially opened Monday, leading to lots of conversations this week about the roadway finally being complete.
The interstate opening was probably the second most talked about topic this week ( the high school name change being No. 1), but it definitely should have been the most talked about due to its importance to our community and its future growth.
While I spoke to many people about I-22 throughout the week, the most interesting conversation was a chat I had with a former city official.
During his speech at the I-22 ribbon cutting, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) talked about many people who were not at the event but played a major role in the completion of the interstate. One of the people he mentioned was Don Goetz, a former mayor of Jasper.
Goetz, a transplant to Jasper from “up north,” was elected as mayor in 1996 after being a successful businessman in the retail sector for most of his life. While he is now retired, the 83-year-old Goetz still makes his home in Jasper. I have known Don for years now, and I consider him a friend. On Wednesday, we got together for lunch and had a long conversation about important factors related to the completion of Corridor X (I-22) during his time as mayor.
“In the early 1980s, I heard that Walmart was interested in putting a distribution center in Alabama and heard they were considering Cullman,” said Goetz, who was the manager of the Jasper Walmart store at the time. “I called Sam Walton and asked him to reconsider and look at Jasper. At that point, we didn't even have a store in Cullman. I told him that Jasper had been really good for Walmart. He agreed, but he asked me how far the closest interstate was to Jasper. I was shot down. I never forgot that, so I knew how important an interstate would be to our future when I was elected mayor.”
Early in his first term as mayor, Goetz said that he received a package from a longtime area resident that included a scrapbook with newspaper articles related to the background of Corridor X.
“It started in the 1960s, but it grew slowly because it was an Appalachian Regional Commission project,” Goetz said. “Those roads were called corridors and were given a letter instead of a number, so that's why it was called Corridor X.”
Goetz credited former U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill as the force behind the roadway. He said Bevill would average obtaining about $10 million per year to keep the project alive, but there was never any big funding or push to get it done.
“He had retired as congressman when they opened the first section in 1997,” Goetz said. “He and I went there together. He said, “Don, this has been a long time coming, but now we got it going and in a few years you will see thousands of cars go through here. Almost 20 years later, that is true.”
After a regional meeting with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in February 1997, Goetz said several officials from various communities came together and decided to form a Corridor X Task Force. The task force included people from Shelby County, Ala., to Shelby County, Tenn. The task force was meant to be a force to get the roadway on an accelerated path.
The group caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby when he visited Jasper in 1997 for a town hall meeting. The lawmaker was met on his drive up by task force members carrying signs asking for Shelby's support of Corridor X. Shelby got out of his car, grabbed a sign and pledged his support. By that time, Aderholt had been elected in the seat formerly held by Bevill and also pledged his support to the project.
“After that, we made several trips through the years to Montgomery and Washington (D.C.), but most were to Washington because that is where the money was,” Goetz said. “On most every trip, Corridor X was our top priority. Aderholt took the lead on the project in the House, while Shelby and (Sen. Jeff) Sessions took the lead in the Senate.”
Goetz said Bruce Windham, a former lobbyist from the Jasper area, was instrumental in opening doors for the group in Washington, D.C.
“There were so many people that helped during that time,” Goetz said. “The chamber in Birmingham, the Walker County chamber, Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid, and several business leaders from Walker and Jefferson County played big roles. We all worked together to make things happen.”
Going from a corridor to an interstate was also a topic that Goetz brought up during our conversation. He said he received a call from Session who told him one of his aides had come up with a plan to get the interstate designation.
“Corridor X was built to interstate specifications,” Goetz said. “It had to join interstates at both ends, and he told me there was an appropriations bill that was going to be voted on and they were putting into the bill a paragraph that said upon completion from one end to the other that it will become Interstate 22. That was big because corridors don't get showed on maps but interstates do.”
Goetz also talked about the work the city did to get federal funding to put sewer to the interstate. It was during a nice dinner with Shelby in Washington that Goetz was assured by the senator that funding would be made available, ultimately promising the sewer project would be paid 100 percent by the federal government. It was delayed for a good while, but in time Shelby made good on that promise.
There were many people who played a pivotal role in the completion of I-22. I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with Don this week to hear his side of “the rest of the story.”
James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.