SAGINAW – Alabama road builders and the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure updated state legislators and legislative candidates from Jefferson and Shelby counties recently on the need for new revenue to continue projects like the current Interstate 65 lane-widening project, which could be one of the last infrastructure improvements of its kind without additional funding.
Business Council of Alabama and AAI members Dunn Construction Co. of Birmingham, Wiregrass Construction Co. Inc. of Dothan and Pelham, and the Alabama Road Builders Association hosted area legislators on Oct. 11 at Dunn’s Longview asphalt plant in Saginaw.
Their focus is on the March 2019 legislative session and the need for legislation to address the state’s chronic transportation funding problem.
“With the need for economic development, it’s crucial we do something now in preparation for the session,” said Wiregrass Construction Co. President John Harper, who is also first vice chairman of the National Asphalt Pavement Association.
“Our road program if we don’t do anything will drop from about $1 billion to $550 million a year,” Harper said. “If the program drops that much it will affect the entire industry with jobs and economic development.”
In 2017, the Alabama Department of Transportation funded about $1.4 billion in construction and maintenance. But of the total, about $313 million was from short-term bond revenue initiatives such as ATRIP, RAMP, and a bridge program.
Due to the end of short-term financing next year, Alabama faces a revenue void that in 2020 will reduce road spending by $313 million, not to mention the continuing annual debt service of approximately $132 million.
That $445 million reduction in money for road building, a 30 percent decrease in construction, not only will affect asphalt and road building industries but also the state’s entire road program of providing and maintaining an adequate transportation network for new and existing industry and the nearly 1 million jobs that depend on the state’s transportation network.
“Infrastructure for our state is vital to economic development, we heed to have more infrastructure to bring in industry statewide,” said Evans Dunn, general manager and vice president of Dunn Construction. “The state of Alabama can’t grow, we can’t bring in businesses without quality infrastructure.”
The group of business and legislative leaders toured the Longview asphalt plant, which includes reclaimed asphalt and asphalt shingle recycling for new road construction and maintenance, and the I-65 lane widening project between Pelham and Alabaster in north Shelby County requested by Gov. Kay Ivey.
A joint venture of Dunn and Wiregrass is the widening about four miles of the interstate from four to six lanes. When all lanes are open in late 2019, the project will ease travel for the 89,000 vehicles that use the road during each weekday.
That section of I-65 commonly sees slowed and even stopped traffic during non-rush hours not to mention rush hour, which Harper and Dunn say will only worsen as vehicle traffic is eventually expected to double.
I-65 providing access to and through Alabama’s largest metropolitan area is one of the most important roads in Alabama. Its status is indicative of the need for modernizing state highways that are essential to economic growth.
Harper told attendees of the need for new revenue.
“It is just vital,” he said. “The No. 1 issue when companies look at coming to Alabama or any state is the investment in infrastructure.”
Jim Page, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and chairman of the AAI, also provided remarks to the group.
“We have a common singular focus for the state of Alabama to increase its investment in infrastructure,” Page said. “Many of our neighboring states have already addressed this.
“We’ve got to do this in Alabama,” Page said. “One million working people in Alabama depend on it. We hope one of the first items you have the opportunity to address in March is this issue.”
At current state transportation funding levels, the Alabama Department of Transportation has the ability to fund only one major widening project a year, with most of its funding going to the maintenance and preservation of Alabama’s current system.
With similar much-needed projects existing all over the state, Alabama will need to address its transportation funding problem soon or the problems will only grower larger and more costly as inflation rises causing construction costs to continue to increase.