By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey made another roadbuilding announcement Tuesday for projects in Autauga and Cherokee counties as part of the Rebuild Alabama First Year Plan 2020.
The project was the third such announcement made in less than a week, with plans for Huntsville and Tuscaloosa being announced previously.
“Drivers across Alabama have experienced the troubles of the state’s crumbling infrastructure for far too long,” Ivey said in a written statement. “In selecting these projects in Autauga and Cherokee counties, we’re showing that stagnation is no longer the case in Alabama.”
In Prattville, according to the announcement, the Alabama Department of Transportation will be tasked with widening U.S. Highway 82. This project will shorten the daily commute of more than 17,000 drivers, complete the Prattville Bypass and improve access for loggers traveling to the International Paper plant. Additionally, this project improves access to the James Hardie Building Projects Facility and the other companies in the area.
“These are the first steps of many that will begin the process of Rebuild Alabama. Industry is a backbone of our economic engine, and I am pleased that Governor Ivey is moving Alabama forward with these improvements,” said Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), who served as the bill’s Senate sponsor. “I firmly believe that we will look back on 2019 as a turning point in the history of our state.”
In Cherokee County, ALDOT will be widening U.S. Highway 411. Cherokee County is one of 16 Alabama counties currently not served by a four-lane route to an interstate.
“The widening of US 411 has been long-awaited by the folks of Cherokee and Etowah counties, and it is vital for the economic development of this area,” Sen. Andrew Jones said. “As we begin to see dividends from the Rebuild Alabama Act, I once again thank Governor Ivey for her leadership in its passage and look forward to continually working together in the future.”
On Monday, Ivey announced that ALDOT is purchasing the right of way for the expansion of McFarland Boulevard from State Route 69 to Rice Mine Road, which sees more than 50,000 trips made daily.
“I would like to thank Governor Ivey for her leadership to help our state improve its public safety, offer a better quality of life for our citizens and provide opportunities for future prosperity,” said Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the sponsor of the bill in the House. “This infrastructure investment will have a positive impact for not only ourselves, but also our children and grandchildren.”
The projects are the result of the passage of the gas tax during the special session of the Alabama Legislature earlier this spring, which opponents decried as being hasty pushed through. However, supporters like Chambliss and Poole saw the need for infrastructure improvement and took the lead to steer the bill through the legislative process.
David Mowery, chairman of Mowery Consulting in Montgomery, sees the projects being awarded to supporters as smart politics.
“It’s a chance to reward people who stuck their neck out for you,” said Mowery. “Also it’s not like these are boondoggles that they’re throwing money at as pet projects — anyone whose driven 82 to Tuscaloosa knows it needs to be on the front burner, and so you essentially get a two-for-one here in terms of the optics — reward supporters and show the public you’re delivering on the promise to fast track the most needed projects.”
Mowery sees the only danger is if the administration goes through the list and crosses out high priority projects that happen to be in districts of members that voted against it, specifically new members who may have felt they are in a no-win situation.
“But overall I think this is a pro move and from an operational standpoint a kind of refreshing break from the usual ham-handed standard operating procedure of Alabama Politics.”
Beginning in January, state, county and municipal governments in Alabama will see additional revenue from the fuel tax increase of six-cents which starts in September, according to a press release.