Roads are important and political


Many of you took to the roads to travel over Memorial Day. I am sure this resulted in rumblings and discourses about the deplorable conditions of Alabama’s roads. Most of you, if you went anywhere, had to travel on I-65. Most Alabamians live along the I-65 corridor.
I-65 is approximately 366 miles from the Tennessee-Alabama line to Mobile. It is a nightmare. I can attest to the frustration of being stuck on this highway. I travel on I-65 from Montgomery to Birmingham at least 100 times a year. My guess is that I am relegated to being in a parking lot four out of 10 times. I am delayed for important meetings and television interviews. In recent years I have begun to start my journey an hour early in anticipation of a delay. When I call to apologize for my tardiness, I end my call with if there is a worse road to travel in the country, I want to see it.
Indeed, I-65 south of Hoover is the busiest road in the state. According to ALDOT’s traffic count, they average 130,000 vehicles per day. Many of you have experienced this I-65 nightmare, including Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth.
The Lt. Governor and the majority of state senators are advocating for six lanes for the entire I-65 thoroughfare. The Alabama State Senate recently approved a resolution that urges the Alabama Department of Transportation to prioritize improvements and additional capacity along I-65. This needs to be a priority for our state. As the main artery in the state, I-65 is traveled by tourists, truckers, businesspeople and everyday Alabamians, who simply need to get from Point A to Point B in a timely manner in order to live their lives. When people are at a standstill on I-65 for hours on end, it hurts our tourism, our economy and our industrial recruitments.
In defense of Gov. Kay Ivey, she has worked to make a difference in regard to Alabama’s roads. She made passage of a gas tax a priority of her administration and tenure in office. She has put her legacy in place by rebuilding Alabama with her gas tax/road building initiative.
She was criticized by some for raising taxes. She displayed political courage and statesmanship and knew we had to have infrastructure to keep up with other states in growth and economic development.
However, we may not have gone far enough. We may not be keeping up with other states. If she was going to be criticized for a 10 cent a gallon increase, she should have gone for 20 cents. Then maybe we would be able to compete with our sister states like Florida.
It has recently been brought to my attention an unbelievably amazing fact. The State of Florida Department of Transportation has 10 divisions and all 10 have the same amount of money. The pan-handle of Florida adjacent to Alabama is one of the 10 divisions. The panhandle Florida division alone has more money than the entire state of Alabama highway budget.
Florida has built four lanes from the beach to almost the Alabama line. They are awaiting Alabama meeting them with a four-lane highway 167 through Enterprise and to 231 in Troy. Many of you who traveled to the Florida coast this weekend probably wished that four lane was completed, and you were also wishing that I-65 had six lanes.
Speaking of the Florida coast, for many years both political history students and readers have asked me why the panhandle of Florida is not part of Alabama. When looking at a map it appears the panhandle should be a part of our state. Indeed, both politically and demographically, as well as topographically, the panhandle of Florida and south Alabama are one in the same.
The answer is we were offered the entire panhandle, including the beaches and coastline more than once for almost nothing over a century ago. We refused to take it. At that time, the South and especially Alabama, were totally agriculturally oriented. Everything was about could you grow crops on land. Folks looked at the sandy soil and thick brush in the sparsely underdeveloped territory and said anybody would be crazy to want that land. Plus, it was occupied by Seminole Indians who were fierce and protective of their territory. Alabamians said hell no to fighting Seminole Indians and thorny bushes for land that was nothing but sand and you could not grow anything on it.
Well, that sand and beaches are worth something today. It is estimated that within the next seven years one million new people are going to move to the panhandle of Florida.
See you next week.

Steve Flowers’ weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature.