Category Archives:News
The Future of Alabama's Roads

County Association Releases Infrastructure Improvement Plan

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The Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) voted today to support a 3-cent per gallon fuel increase to fund a $1.2 billion bond issue for local road and bridge projects. The bond issue would cost the average Alabama driver a nickel a day — less than $1.50 each month.

Click here for an overview of the plan.
Click here for the county-by-county revenue generated from a 3-cent bond issue.

ACCA Executive Director Sonny Brasfield said counties need to shift focus and get behind a concrete infrastructure plan before the legislative session begins on Feb. 7.

“We just feel like the only way to push this forward is for county leaders to advocate for a specific plan,” Brasfield said.

Under the plan approved by the ACCA membership today, revenue from the bonds would be divided among counties using the existing gasoline tax formula. While the formula is partially based on population, under this plan, every county would get a minimum of $10 million. Twenty percent of the money would be spent within municipalities.

The legislation would prohibit the bond money being used for salaries, equipment, or for construction other than road projects. It would also require periodic reporting on the projects. The 3-cent tax increase would expire on the June 30 following the repayment of the bonds.

The new plan would come on the heels of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, ATRIP, which was launched a few years ago and has allowed cities and counties to undertake hundreds of road and bridge projects.

“Some roads that were not eligible for ATRIP funds would be eligible under the new plan, which is being called ATRIP-2,” said Brasfield.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon Gives Updates on Transportation Bills

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McCutcheon: Road Crisis is “Imminent” Without New Transportation Dollars

 

By Alexandra Carter via WHNT19 (Click the link to view video)

HUNTSVILLE, AL-  It’s no secret roads across the state of Alabama are unfavorable at best. According to officials, nearly 50% of state highways are in fair, poor or very poor condition.

“Some counties say they’re at the point where they can no longer repave their roads, they’re thinking about scraping up the broken asphalt and putting their roads back to gravel because they just don’t have the money to pave their roads,” said Representative Mac McCutcheon.

What would you be willing to pay for improvements? Representative McCutcheon is proposing a 6-cent tax increase on gas to fund road improvements through House Bill 394. Without the funds, McCutcheon believes Alabama roads will reach crisis status as soon as next year.

“The urgency is here, there’s no doubt about it,” said Representative McCutcheon.

The gas tax ensures everybody who passes through, not just Alabamians pay for their share of road use.

“We have a lot of people who drive through this state, going to the beach, going to Gulf Shores, they use our roads, they have wear and tear. They should be expected to help us pay for our roads as well,” said Representative McCutcheon.

Lawmakers have waited 25 years to address this issue, McCutcheon says enough is enough. “We cannot build roads, we cannot continue to address our infrastructure needs on 1992 revenue streams,” said Representative McCutcheon.

McCutcheon says Senate Bill 180 will ensure 100% of revenues raised will go only toward road construction.

“The counties, municipalities and the state will have to be held accountable for those dollars, in those dollars they will have to report those dollars out on a yearly basis, the report will be made public,” explained Representative McCutcheon.

The legislature will reconvene Tuesday; McCutcheon says he’s fairly confident the tax increase bill will be on the floor this week but he says both bills need to pass the house and senate in order to work.

County Leaders Applaud State Lawmakers’ Efforts to Increase Transparency

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The Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) applauded the passage of Senate Bill 180 by the Alabama House of Representatives on yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, is unique in that it includes protection features to ensure accountability and transparency in a way currently unseen in Alabama. Prior to the introduction of SB 180, county leaders expressed concern that legislation creating additional road and bridge revenue could be diverted for other uses, leaving counties to face perpetual infrastructure deterioration.

“Senator Dial’s bill is critical to the process of securing additional revenue for deteriorating county roads and bridges. It is our guarantee that any monies generated for transportation infrastructure will only be spent where it is desperately needed – on our local roads and bridges,” said Sonny Brasfield, Executive Director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. “This bill, particularly the creation of the Alabama Transportation Safety Fund, demonstrates that legislators have made a long-term commitment to improving the condition of Alabama’s roads and bridges.”

SB 180 establishes the Alabama Transportation Safety Fund along with expenditure guidelines for any road and bridge revenue generated this session. Specifically, it does the following:

  • Requires the public to be notified of any projects being funded with monies from the Alabama Transportation Safety Fund
  • Requires state and local officials to provide regular reports on the status of both new and existing road and bridge projects
  • Ensures that all monies generated for transportation infrastructure go directly to road and bridge projects.

Passage of SB 180 could directly impact House Bill 394 by Rep. Mac McCutcheon, which proposes a $.06 per gallon increase at the gas pump that would cost Alabamians approximately $5 per month. A 2015 review of county highway programs by DRIVE Alabama revealed that the majority of Alabama counties would need to see an approximate increase of 175% in annual revenue to adequately preserve and improve their road and bridge networks.

“County engineers from all over the state have spent the last year working on the DRIVE Alabama campaign to bring more attention to the silent crisis facing Alabama’s county roads and bridges,” said Brasfield. “The revenue generating measure proposed by Rep. McCutcheon this session represents a responsible approach to addressing the funding deficits faced by many local road and bridge programs.”

Rep. McCutcheon’s bill, HB 394, could be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives as early as next week. For more information on SB 180 and HB 394, visit the DRIVE Alabama campaign at www.drivealabama.org.

Separating Fact from Fiction: The Real Deal on SB 180 and HB 394

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Senator Gerald Dial on Infrastructure: Tough Decisions Ahead for Alabama

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Last December, I joined county commissioners, engineers, and school officials on a tour of several roads and bridges in my district that needed immediate improvement. The sites we inspected made a very clear case that our rural transportation system is in crisis.

Shortly thereafter, the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee held a series of statewide “listening” events. During those stops, business leaders, economic development professionals, truckers and local officials discussed how underfunded roads and bridges are harming Alabama’s competitive position.

As the 2016 Legislative Session nears its end, almost everyone agrees more revenue is needed for transportation infrastructure.But somehow, the debate on providing additional revenue for infrastructure improvements is far from settled.

It’s been over 20 years since new revenue was dedicated for transportation in Alabama. In recent months, I’ve thought a lot about the 1992 session when the Legislature last approved an increase in road funding. As a rather young legislator, I actively supported that 5-cent per gallon increase in both the gasoline and diesel fuel tax. And I was resoundingly re-elected the next time my name was on the ballot.

This year alone, we’ll have about $160 million in additional revenue for state and local roads because of the courage shown in passing that nickel tax. Local businesses have used the improved roads to employ our friends and family members. Farmers have moved products on these roads. And school buses are safely carrying our children on the roads and bridges maintained with this revenue.

Every Alabamian has benefitted from the safety improvements made with those dollars. But inflation has overtaken the buying power of that nickel, and our infrastructure AND economy are suffering as a result.

Having served over 30 years in the Alabama Legislature, I’m not sure anyone is more accustomed to listening to “the people” than Gerald Dial. So I understand that no one — including the Dial family — is itching to pay additional taxes. But I also understand that our state’s economic future is directly tied to its transportation system. And it is our responsibility to invest in that system.

Consider this. If you drive 20,000 miles per year and your automobile averages 20 miles per gallon, then that 5-cent increase from the 1990s costs you $50 per year. Fifty dollars per year! That’s about the price of ONE 16-ounce soft drink per week.

The 1992 fuel tax increase costs us all very little, yet that revenue has been at the heart of our state’s economic growth for over two decades. Our state has weathered economic storms,attracted international industries, and educated two generations of children due to that investment.

Undoubtedly, there are hard decisions to be made in the coming weeks. I am proud to support an increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, because these taxes are the fairest that our state levies. Drive more, and you pay more tax. Drive less, and you pay less tax.

Of course, we have the option to do nothing this session. But in terms of finding the revenue we need to improve transportation in our state, we’ve already been doing “nothing” for more than two decades.

Judge David Money: We Need a Solution for Alabama’s Declining Infrastructure

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As a young boy growing up near Shorterville in east Henry County, I don’t remember much about the 1950’s…maybe a few sporting events like Don Larsen’s perfect game in the ’56 World Series and Mickey Mantle winning the triple crown that same year (events that birthed a southern boy’s life long fandom of the New York Yankees.) I also remember a few unpleasant events like the divorce of my parents in 1958 and my sister and I moving in with our grandparents.

History tells us of a program of that era that I do not remember.  Governor ‘Big Jim’ Folsom implemented his ‘Farm to Market Program’ – a visionary plan to pave at least 100 roads in each of Alabama’s 67 countries as well as over 18,000 miles of roads state wide.  His program and Governor Robert Bentley’s current ALTRIP program are two of the greatest boosters of public transportation and economic development in the history of the Wiregrass region.

But, sadly, in the years that have passed since the ‘50’s, many of those ‘farm to market’ roads have been neglected because they do not qualify for any federal funding. The sad fact is that we have too little local revenue to properly maintain Henry County’s 700 miles of county roads.  Only 170 of those miles are eligible for some type federal funding.  The remaining 530 miles receive no outside assistance – every penny we spend to maintain these roads must be found locally.  All 700 miles are maintained by a crew of 22.  We are losing the battle to save many of these roads.  Without a new funding source there is no question that the next step is to return some of our paved roads to the dirt and mud conditions that ‘Big Jim’ promised to eliminate.  It is already taking place in other counties.

I’m a fiscal conservative.  The answer to every problem is not in raising taxes.   But in this case, there is no other alternative.  Two current bills before the Alabama legislature deal with funding to help our county roads.  The first bill (HB 394) would increase fuel taxes by six cents per gallon – a number based on the average of fuel taxes in the four states contiguous to Alabama.  The second bill (SB180) would stipulate that every penny of these needed funds would go to the maintenance of roads and bridges – no new buildings, no new hiring, no salary increases, no equipment purchases, etc.  It would all be spent where it is needed most – on county roads.  It would also require us to publish our plans for the use of the money – i.e., which roads, what type work, when will it be done, how much will be spent, etc.  I’ve been an advocate of those type transparency measures from day one.

It’s easy to say ‘no new taxes!’ Anyone can make that statement – no one wants to pay more taxes. The real question is whether those who say ‘no’ can actually offer an alternative plan. That’s the hard part. It’s worth noting that many of those most vocal in their opposition to the bill have something to gain by it not passing.  Their position is that this legislation would cost consumers $190 million or so annually. Let me break those numbers down to an example we can all understand.  My wife and I drove a total of 40,000 miles last year.  Our two vehicles average about 24 mpg.  The six cents per gallon fuel increase would cost us about $8.00 per month.  One blown tire, one bent rim or one front end alignment from an encounter with a pot hole would cost us more than the tax we would pay in a full year.

The Alabama Business Council, the Alabama Trucker’s Association, the Association of County Commissions of Alabama and many other similar organizations support both pieces of legislation.  They will pay much more at the pump than most of us, but they are supporting it anyway.

We’ve cut everywhere possible in Henry County. I’ve always been told that if you ‘take care of the dimes, the dollars will take care of themselves’ – and that’s the approach I take every day.  It’s not easy finding solutions. I urge you to put some thought and study into this.  I certainly respect the opinions of those who have a different view.  All I ask is that you help find the solution.  We in Henry County are willing to listen.

 

Respectfully,

 

David Money

Henry County Probate Judge

Henry County Commission Chairman

101 Court Square

Abbeville, Alabama 36310

Alabama Roads & Bridges are Bad – and Getting Worse, Legislators Hear

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By Lance Griffin via the Dothan Eagle

A select Alabama legislative committee has been touring the state to hear from people about the condition of Alabama’s roads and bridges.

The committee made its fourth of five stops Thursday in Dothan and heard a familiar refrain.

The state’s roads and bridges are bad, and getting worse.

Here is a sample of comments from the 20+ speakers:

  • Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver: “In 1989 it cost $35,000 to pave one mile of county roads. Today, it costs $125,000. We stand at a critical time.”
  • Henry County Commission Chairman David Money: “We cannot afford to resurface, so what we find ourselves doing is patching the patches. We’re quickly reaching the point where we’re forced to decide if we want to continue to patch the patches, or do we just cut it back to a dirt road. Some of our neighboring counties have already had to do this.”
  • Geneva County Engineer Justin Barfield: “After salaries, equipment costs, maintenance, fuel and patching, my budget is at zero. I would love to stop apologizing to people and telling them we’re sorry. I would love to tell them ‘Yes, we can help you.”
  • Dale County Engineer Derek Brewer: “All we do is patch off-system roads. That’s all we can do.”

It isn’t as if the committee only recently became enlightened to the deteriorating state of roads in Alabama. In essence, the committee has been touring the state to see if there is support for a gas tax.

More than 20 speakers lobbied for a gas tax Thursday during the packed meeting held at the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce. Only a spokesperson for gas stations and convenience stores took a different approach. He raised a concern that motorists may bypass convenience stores in certain towns and counties that have chosen to have a local gas tax.

Otherwise, commissioners and engineers said they believed a gas tax would be supported, if the tax was reasonable and the plan for its use was specific and fair.

“We’ve demonstrated a very real need. Now, we have to develop and share with our citizens a clear and concise plan for how every dollar will be spent, including specific road numbers and the type of work to be done, as well as periodic updates on the status of each project,” Money said.

There is no current bill that shares those specifics. Committee chairman Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, said he may be prepared to file a bill next week.

The current state gasoline tax is 16 cents a gallon, along with a 2 cent inspection fee used for transportation. An additional 12 cents per gallon could be proposed in the bill, although McCutcheon said no final decision has been made. An additional 12 cents would raise an estimated $396 million.

Rep Paul Lee, R-Dothan, said it is important that the tax doesn’t cause gasoline prices to exceed those in Florida or Georgia.

“Where I am, where my district borders two other states, we have to be careful to see what Georgia and Florida are doing. If we’re not careful we see people driving across the state line and we don’t want that.”

Florida’s state gas tax is 36 cents per gallon. Georgia’s state gas tax is slightly more than 28 cents per gallon.

The committee’s final meeting will be next week in Decatur. The Legislature is expected to have a bill on the floor to consider during the upcoming regular session.

 

$164 million Veterans Memorial Parkway: The Last of Its Kind for Calhoun County?

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By Tim Lockette via The Anniston Star

It was less like a grand opening, and more like finding a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk.

In late December, as many Calhoun County residents were doing their last Christmas shopping or hitting the road for the holidays, state workers quietly opened the offramp at the end of Veterans Memorial Parkway. After $164 million in state and federal spending and a decade of construction work, the shopping centers of Oxford were now about eight minutes closer to northern Anniston, without red lights.

Enjoy that thrill while it lasts. State and local officials say they don’t know when the area will see another road project this big.

“We will never see one like this in my lifetime, in our area. We’re done,” said Jack Plunk, a principal planner for the East Alabama Regional Planning Commission, which plans future roads for local governments.

Asked to name their next transportation project, state and local officials count off a list of far less gargantuan efforts than the 7-mile parkway. They’ll expand the Chief Ladiga Trail, a hiking-and-biking path, into urban Anniston. They’ll add more bike lanes to the city, improve turn lanes and add traffic signals at troublesome intersections.

But nothing that will plow through acres of forest land once hidden from regular civilians.

The world just isn’t the same place it was when the parkway project began.

Growing price tag

At least 25 years have passed since local officials began talking seriously about the Anniston Eastern Bypass, the imagined road that would eventually become the parkway.

The concept would have been obvious to any 1980s driver with a county map in his glove compartment. The urban mass of Anniston and Oxford was squished between two off-limits areas – Anniston Army Depot on one side and Fort McClellan on the other. To get from the interstate to points north of Anniston, you had to wade through the city traffic on Quintard and Alabama 21. While you waited at red lights, you might catch a glimpse of pristine, federally protected hills off to either side.

So why not cut through those forested hills, once the heart of Fort McClellan, and give people a quick path from Interstate 20 to the heart of Calhoun County?

In 1991, the projected price of that project — $11 million — seemed cheap compared to the convenience and economic opportunity the Eastern Bypass could bring. The 1999 closure of Fort McClellan, a potential economic disaster, didn’t discourage bypass advocates. With the Army base gone, land for a new road would be easier to acquire, and connecting the former base to the interstate would be all the more vital to efforts to turn McClellan into an industrial site.

In 2016, local officials’ hopes for the road aren’t quite as high. Asked whether he’d rather have the parkway or the money that was ultimately spent to build it, Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart sidestepped the question.

“I think the parkway is important, and it’s something we have now,” said Stewart.

Looking straight ahead

Stewart welcomes the new road as something that can take some of the traffic off Quintard Avenue.

In most small towns, city officials welcome traffic on the main thoroughfare, because more drivers means more business. Stewart believes there’s a limit to that effect, and that Quintard, sometimes crowded with cars and big trucks, has probably reached it.

“If all you can do is look straight ahead at a truck at the stoplight ahead of you, you just aren’t going to see local businesses,” Stewart said.

Stewart has long been an advocate of turning Anniston into “Bike City,” capitalizing on the area’s well-known bicycle races. One drawback to that plan has been the almost complete lack of bike lanes in the city. Stewart wants future road projects to correct that.

The mayor also says he hopes to maintain the city’s current roads in good condition and work on signaling and other issues at some troublesome intersections.

“The trend today is to look inward, toward the city, not outward,” Stewart said.

There may be another reason local road plans are modest compared to the parkway. Road construction money is harder to come by than it was in the late 1990s, when Congress first set aside money for an Anniston bypass.

Figures from the Congressional Budget Office show that nationwide, state and federal spending on highways, adjusted for inflation, peaked just after the turn of the 21st century. Much of the money for roadbuilding came from gas taxes, which are often assessed on a cents-per-gallon basis. Gas tax revenue tends to shrink as cars get more efficient; the cost to build a road continues to rise.

“With the revenue we have, we’re in a maintenance mode more than a building mode,” said Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.

There’s also the hard truth that in Calhoun County, it’s now less clear where a major road would even be needed. The county’s population isn’t growing fast, Plunk said, and where growth is happening, it’s spread out in rural areas.

Still, Plunk is convinced the parkway should remain as a “limited access” road — a straight shot from Oxford to northern Anniston with few places to turn on or off the road. Similar roads, he said, have tended to turn into alternate versions of the business thoroughfares they were meant to replace, peppered with stoplights and turn lanes and no longer a quick shortcut.

“I would advise that we make sure it remains a bypass,” he said.

Rep. AJ McCampbell Participates in DRIVE-Along County Road Tour

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By Andrea Mitchell via ABC 11 (WTOK)

Sumter County, Alabama – The Association of County Commissioners is pushing for road funding to be a leading issue on the agenda for the 2016 Alabama Legislature. That’s the purpose of state legislators taking a tour in various counties within their districts. On this day Newscenter 11 caught up with District 71 Representative A.J. McCampbell in Sumter County.

“There’s an effort to have an additional tax added to gasoline as it is dispensed at the pump,” says McCampbell, “and once that is added on, we’ll be looking at making sure that is used for the additional road needs.”

“Anytime you want improvement, you have to make that sacrifice, and if you want better roads there is a sacrifice that must be made,” says Marcus Campbell, who is chairman of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners.

County engineer Anthony Crear says there are 230 miles of dirt roads, and 340 miles of paved roads to maintain within the county.

“We use to patch cracks and we’re now patching potholes,” says Crear, “and when it gets beyond potholes we don’t even want to consider where we’re going at that point.”

Although funding has not gone down to do roadwork, the cost has gone up, and this has left the commissioner, who has the most dirt roads with people living on them within the county, seeking funding alternatives.

“We have a grant to pave the Hodges Dial Road now,” says District 1 Commissioner Drucilla Jackson. “It’s in terrible condition, and citizens are suffering until the spring when we will pave the road.”

As for Alabama legislators, they are set to open this year’s session on February 2nd. Representative McCampbell’s district covers: Choctaw, Marengo, Sumter, Greene, Tuscaloosa and Pickens counties. So far, he has also toured roads in Greene County.

State Lawmakers Seek Public Input on Road and Bridge Improvements

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by Alan Collins via FOX 6 News (WBRC)

SHELBY COUNTY, AL (WBRC) – A second meeting was held Tuesday to hear about the need to find more money for repairing Alabama roads and bridges.

The Joint Transportation Committee listened to those who say the state had to find more money to improve roads and bridges for safety reasons.

Most of those who addressed the group say leadership is needed to support a push for more revenue where ever it may come.

The group met at American Village in Shelby County. County Manager Alex Dubchock told the lawmakers the future of economic development for the ever-growing county depends on improved roads and bridges.

Also on hand were Jefferson County officials who say the county cannot meet the needs of fixing roads and replacing bridges with existing funds.

The County Commissions Association of Alabama is pushing for money funds. Executive Director Sonny Brasfield says the all the projects will be accountable for taxpayers.

“The public’s ability to know what projects are going to be constructed beforehand. The public’s ability to look at the construction as it’s moving forward and here at the end of the year we will provide an accounting on how we expended the money. We believe the public deserves that,” said Sonny Brasfield, Executive Director of the County Commissions Association of Alabama.

Only one spoke against the idea. Sarah Stokes with the Southern Environmental Law Center told the lawmakers her group did not want to give more money to ALDOT accusing the agency of wasting tax dollars on projects like the northern beltline.

The next meeting is next week in Mobile. Then a meeting is set for Dothan. Lawmakers may vote on a tax in regular session next month.