A national transportation research organization said Thursday that Alabama’s deteriorating roads and bridges threaten to stifle economic growth and development.
At news conferences in Birmingham and at the Business Council of Alabama in Montgomery, the Washington, D.C.-based research organization TRIP identified 20 transportation improvements that are needed to support economic growth and quality of life.
Another 30 needed transportation improvements are detailed in the TRIP report, “The Top 50 Highway Projects to Support Economic Development and Quality of Life in Alabama,” that can be found at www.tripnet.org.
The improvements include building, expanding, and modernizing Alabama’s highway and bridges.
“There is no doubt we need to address transportation in our state,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary, who hosted the news conference. “It’s not a question of whether we need to do it, it’s a question of how we do it.”
The TRIP report and news conferences came at the conclusion of five regional transportation meetings held to educate the public about the need for surface transportation improvements to keep the state competitive, grow the number of jobs, and provide safe and efficient roads and bridges.
Legislators, TRIP officials, the Alabama Department of Commerce secretary, and Alabama road and transportation industry representatives attended the Montgomery news conference.
Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville, who will sponsor legislation to improve Alabama’s surface transportation network, said the five meetings convinced him that the public will support investing in Alabama’s roads and bridges.
McCutcheon, chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, said his bill is not yet ready for introduction.
“We’ve got to find out what is fair and what is sustainable,” he said. “We do not have the option of doing nothing anymore.”
The last time Alabama’s fuel tax was increased was in 1992 when it was increased 5 cents, to 16 cents per gallon.
Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, the Joint Transportation Committee’s vice chairman, said the public sees a need to invest in road and bridge improvements but “they want it to go to roads and bridges.”
Representatives from the Alabama Trucking Association, the Alabama Road Builders Association, the Economic Development Association of Alabama, Associated General Contractors, and the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure attended the news conference.
The AAI is comprised of members of Alabama’s business community, chambers of commerce, industry associations, community groups, and concerned citizens. “We have rural counties that are at an economic disadvantage due to their infrastructure,” said AAI spokesman Jim Page, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.
Rocky Moretti, TRIP’s director of policy and research, said while the cost of the top 50 projects is $4.6 billion, the cost of doing nothing is much higher from the potential loss of life due to unsafe roads, lost productivity from traffic jams, and the extra cost of vehicle maintenance caused by deteriorating road conditions.
TRIP said the lack of adequate transportation funding constrains developing and delivering needed improvements. “The reality is there’s a very high cost of not making improvements,” Moretti said.
Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said industry recruiters place transportation as one of their top five needs when seeking sites. “All this requires an infrastructure that supports it and is safe and efficient and provides connectivity that industry demands,” Canfield said.
Canfield said states that invest in their roads and bridges have a competitive business advantage.
“That’s what matters, keeping our state competitive,” the BCA’s Canary said.