MUSCLE SHOALS — When Mayor David Bradford envisions driving down Wilson Dam Road in 2025, he sees signs of progress on every corner.
"There will be a nice steakhouse over here and another sit-down restaurant over there," said Bradford, who has been mayor of Muscle Shoals since 2000. "There will be clothing stores, a couple of hotels, a church or two, a shopping center, banks, pharmacies, office buildings and maybe a grocery store."
For Bradford and other city officials, it's a vision they have been working on for more than a decade.
The city has embraced the potential for retail and commercial growth along the Wilson Dam Road corridor since before the Singing River Bridge was opened. They have worked with the Economic Development Administration, state transportation officials and other agencies to develop a plan to control the growth.
"You want growth and a highway system that can move traffic easier and more safely," Bradford said. "We can have both with proper planning and a commitment to doing it the right way."
City Planner Bill Howard has been involved in the planning since day one. In 2002-03, the City Council, mayor, Planning Department and residents, through a series of public hearings, discussed the potential of the Wilson Dam Road corridor and ways to ensure the development was good for the city and those using the road.
Particularly, Howard said, city leaders didn't want Wilson Dam Road to become Woodward Avenue, part two.
"Woodward is a worst-case scenario," Howard said. "When the city was laid out, every road we had opened onto Woodward. When planning for Wilson Dam Road, we want to pay special attention to egress and ingress along the corridor.
"Although Woodward has been our bread and butter, it was done without thinking."
The commitment to making Wilson Dam Road another revenue stream for the city remained while plans to expand the roadway were placed on hold from May 2008 until January 2012 because of disputes between transportation officials and some landowners over property values.
The project is progressing again as evidenced by relocation of utilities, storm water pipes and other infrastructure.
At present, Wilson Dam Road is seven lanes from the south end of Singing River Bridge to just south of Avalon Avenue. The second phase is under way and will include five lanes of roadway to 700 feet south of the railroad overpass. That work is expected to take two years, followed by the final segment to Alabama 157. That part of the project will take an additional two years and involve four lanes. All needed property for that phase has been acquired.
Some motorists, such as Dennis Coleman, of Tuscumbia, say they fear the Wilson Dam Road corridor will become another Woodward Avenue, the main thoroughfare through Muscle Shoals that features numerous retail developments and traffic lights that interrupt traffic flow.
"They have so many cotton-pickin' red lights that it takes all day to get from one end of Woodward to the other," Coleman said. "I hope to goodness they don't let all those title loan businesses start popping up all over the place like they have on Woodward. It's embarrassing.
"When they talked about the new bridge, they said it would allow trucks and out-of-town traffic to pass on in and out of town without creating more traffic. If (Wilson Dam Road) turns out to be another Woodward Avenue, we're all in trouble."
Bradford said it's likely the corridor will be similar to Woodward Avenue when it's fully developed. He said that development likely will begin at intersections along the corridor, including Second Street, Avalon Avenue and Sixth Street.
"Unlike Woodward where there were no regulations as it was developed through the years, there will be guidelines for businesses that are developed along Wilson Dam Road," Bradford said. "There will be building restrictions, there will be areas that will remain landscaped with trees, bushes and proper curbing and gutters, and there will be signage regulations that must be followed."
Bradford said one of the reasons Gov. Robert Bentley wanted to see the corridor project started again is because of the concern over accidents on the two-lane portion of Wilson Dam Road. He said the additional lanes and having a turning lane will address the problem.
The city's plan does not include access roads, which are streets that run parallel to the main road and provide access to businesses instead of motorists having to turn into businesses from the highway.
"We will be adjusting, evaluating and looking ahead to future needs as we progress," Bradford said. "If an access road or some other addition is needed, there's enough land to handle it."
Howard said the plan the city developed in 2002-03 with the help of consultants is still viable, despite being a decade old.
"The delay wasn't something we planned or wanted," he said. "That was all out of our hands, but, in the mean time, the city did some things to make development out there easier."
construction specifications for commercial buildings. No more metal buildings are allowed in commercial development. New buildings are now required to have at least three sides of brick or concrete.
Buildings must be built at least 350 feet from the center lane of the road. Plans are to increase that to 700 feet.
more detailed storm water regulations.
providing more connections from the corridor to industrial areas like the Shoals Research Air Park.
The city has incentive packages for companies that develop operations along the corridor. To qualify, the business must have a minimum of $1.5 million in sales annually, be a national or regional chain, provide a business history that includes financial strength, state projected employment, and must be in the city limits.
Bradford said the city has received interest from a local developer as well as developers from Nashville and Birmingham.
If a widened end to end, Wilson Dam Road does turn into a retail haven in Muscle Shoals that begs the question of what will happen to retail along Woodward Avenue. Can the city sustain both?
Howard said yes.
"If commercial traffic moves from Woodward to the Wilson Dam (Road), traffic will begin to move more freely along Woodward," Howard predicts. "I think you will see the return of development along there, especially local development."
The City Council approved a separate retail incentive plan for Woodward Avenue in February. Local developer Gregg Pounders is in the process of renovating a shopping center there to house a Goody's clothing store.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.
Managing Editor Mike Goens contributed to this report.