OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – Changes are on the way for Opelika’s Exit 62 interchange at Columbus Parkway over Interstate 85. The improvements include a nearly one million dollar traffic improvement project by the Alabama Department of Transportation and new business replacing two vacant hotels and a closed-down restaurant.

City leaders are hoping these initial economic baby steps will lead to a complete revitalization of the area. They know Exit 62 is a primary gateway into the city of Opelika and the opportunities are endless.

“We get about 30,000 cars a day coming through that area of Columbus Parkway. But, then, the interstate between Gateway Drive coming down into Tiger Town gets about 50,000 cars a day. So it’s one of the largest traffic spots in the region,” said Opelika’s Planning Director, Matt Mosley.

However, significant challenges include traffic congestion, crashes, and crime. Redeveloping this area of town is a part of the city’s 2040 master plan.

“That’s the good part of Opelika, Alabama. All the departments in the city are working towards the same goal,” said Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey.

At the first of the new year, ALDOT will begin a nearly one million dollar project to ease traffic congestion and make it safer to get on and off Interstate 85.

“The city has also begun working with and has engaged a consultant to look at long-term traffic flow and patterns. We hope we can make a significant change in that section,” shared Mosley.

Meanwhile, the now-vacant Motel 6 and Days Inn off Columbus Parkway and the shutdown Durango restaurant will be demolished and replaced with RaceTrac truck stop, new jobs, and economic investment.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to start the process of revitalizing that area – that’s one of the older parts of town,” said Chief Healey.

The RaceTrac construction timetable is still in the works; when it does open, it will operate 24-7 and create 20 to 25 new jobs and a four to 12 million dollar economic investment. On top of that, more than $400,000 is projected to go back to the city every year in sales and gas tax.

“We really try to work on our gateways into the city to make sure we are giving off a good first impression, and that’s not only important for our visitors but all of our residents,” said Mosley.

Mosely says city developers are always looking for new opportunities to bring new businesses into the city. The goal is to create a vibrant interchange similar to Tiger Town with retail shopping, entertainment, and restaurants.