El Camino Real support picks up, but road reality still years away

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Officials are not expecting any immediate returns from a trip toWashington to boost support for the El Camino Real, which wouldcreate a four-lane Highway 84 linking Georgia to Texas along ahistorical pioneer trail.

“This was really just to show them what the project is allabout,” said Monticello Mayor David Nichols, who also serves astreasurer of the multi-state board of directors promoting thehighway.

It’s not the Five State El Camino Commission’s first trip toWashington to inform legislators of the need for the project, butit was the best received, the mayor said.

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“It was probably the largest turnout of stakeholders along theroute and congressmen and senators than we’ve had in three or fouryears,” he said. “We had mayors from Alabama and others from Texasthat have never come before. I think it’s picking up support in theother states.”

Commission officials did not request funding for the project,but tested the waters to see if a pool of money might still existafter the devastation in many of the states during HurricaneKatrina, Nichols said.

In the meantime, the commission has contracted an architect todetermine the cost to complete the project, he said.

Some of the highway was severely damaged during the storm and itwill be expensive merely to return the roadway to its previouscondition – let alone an improved state, said Duke Lyons, vicepresident of the commission and city manager of St. Augustine,Texas. However, he said that could also be a blessing in that ifrepairs are needed it is a good time to take the full step andimprove the highway at the same time.

“One of the best things about Highway 84 is it is a gooddiverging east/west corridor during hurricane evacuation,” Lyonssaid. “We’re just very hot on getting more of our highwaysfour-laned. We really believe if we work hard we can get our partof El Camino finished.”

Mississippi leads the five-state partnership in four-laning thehighway from state line to state line. Georgia and Texas arefollowing in second and third place. Alabama is in fourth place andLouisiana is last.

“This is one area where Mississippi actually tops the list,”Nichols said. “Our portion is scheduled for completion by2010.”

Louisiana is expected to be the last to finish the project,Lyons said. The state was in last place prior to the devastation ofKatrina, which will further hamper its efforts.

The project was originally designed as an economic boost toregions of the state that Highway 84 passes through, but Katrinaand the potential for terrorism on American shores have added newdimensions to the project, Lyons said.

Interstates 10 and 20 are the only four-laned east/westcorridors through Texas, Lyons said, and the El Camino would boostthe state’s ability to evacuate or respond to a national or stateemergency.

Locally, the project would serve as a good east/west divergingpoint for traffic flowing north from the coast in the event ofanother major hurricane, Nichols said.

El Camino Real, or “The King’s Highway” in Spanish, was namedfor an historic trail it will duplicate. The oldest road in Texas,El Camino started as an Indian trail, which the Spanish expandedand improved to link their Louisiana and East Texas missions andforts to Mexico.

Today, much of the road still exists in Texas, linking manyfamous tourist attractions such as the Alamo and other Spanishmissions in San Antonio, Caddo Indian mounds in Alto and a dozenhistoric small towns.

The El Camino project spans 1,729 miles through the heartland ofthe Old South, crossing 48 counties and six parishes and directlyimpacting more than 1.5 million residents of those areas, accordingto project statistics.