By Fred Woods
There is little dispute that Alabama’s infrastructure is crumbling, particularly that part dealing with local roads and bridges. Most Lee Countians would agree that many Lee County roads, in particular, are in bad shape. In 2012, a program called ATRIP ( Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program), provided more than $1 billion to improve Alabama’s local roads and bridges, at least those eligible for state and federal aid funds. This program enabled Alabama counties to complete 15 to 20 years of road and bridge projects in three to four years in more than 200 separate projects.
As helpful as ATRIP was, it was only a drop in the bucket in terms of meeting Alabama’s needs and Alabama’s remaining roads and bridges continue to deteriorate rapidly.
ATRIP was funded by a bond issue to be repaid by future federal highway dollars.
The Association of County Commissioners of Alabama is proposing a new program to continue meeting local bridge and road needs. To be known as ATRIP 2, the new proposal would require legislative action and would finance a $1.2 billion bond issue to finance local transportation infrastructure. The bond issue would be financed by an additional three-cent-a-gallon fuel tax increase. The tax increase, which will cost the average Alabama driver less than $2 a month, will be in effect only until the bond issue is repaid, an estimated 14 years.
The bond funds would be distributed among Alabama counties using the current gas tax formula. If the legislation passes, Lee County would receive $29 million for our roads and bridges. Since the proposal would allocate 20 percent of each county’s funds to its municipalities, Lee County would actually get $23.2 million with the remainder divided between Auburn and Opelika, based on relative population.
The revenue from this program can only be spent on road and bridge projects. No funds may be spent on salaries, equipment or any kind of construction other than roads and bridges.
Another great thing about this program is that they can be spent on roads not eligible for federal funds. In Lee County roads not eligible for federal funds are 60 percent of all roads and 75 percent of paved roads.
Lee County benefited tremendously from ATRIP, receiving 23 projects (15 for bridge replacement and eight for road resurfacing) totaling over $18.9 million invested in the Lee County highway system. The resurfacing projects repaved 41 miles of highway. The problem was that all of it had to be spent on the 167.2 miles of Lee County roads eligible for state or federal funding.
ATRIP-2 has no such restriction. Funds would be distributed to counties according to the current gas tax formula. All projects will be let to contract using rural roads guidelines and individual projects will not require approval from ALDOT. This means local leaders will determine local priorities without state or federal interference.
Since Lee County bridges are in pretty good shape, after a county Bridge Bond Issuance in 2010 and the 15 ATRIP replacements, a preliminary decision has been made to use the entire $23.2 million for road resurfacing. Given current costs, the Lee County Highway Department estimates the 125 miles of road could be resurfaced under ATRIP-2. That’s 18.6 percent of the county’s paved roads and 14.6 percent of all roads. Under present conditions it would take us more than 10 years to resurface this amount.
Lee County has 167 miles of paved roads eligible for state and federal assistance, 506 miles of paved roads not eligible for such assistance and 184 miles of dirt roads. Dirt/unpaved roads sre eligible under the ATRIP-2 program but, in Lee County, would require that commissioners rescind (by majority vote) a moratorium on paving unpaved roads imposed in 2010.
Now what can you, as a Lee County citizen, do about this? Obviously you can/should express your views to Lee County’s legislative delegation, pro or con. For ATRIP-2 to become law your support is essential.
In recognition of the need for local input and support, a group called DRIVE Alabama is urging citizens to complete a two-question survey ranking their three most important road (or bridge) projects in their county of residence. (Question 1 is your three priorities and Question 2 is your county of residence.)
So, if you support the program, get your three priorities ready and do the survey. Not only do you register your support but you are telling local officials where you think the money should be spent. Local government at its finest!
Register your opinion/survey in one of the following ways:
Complete at www.drivealabama.org/about/survey/; Email to firstname.lastname@example.org Include your county; Post them on DRIVE Alabama facebook page.
Leave as a message on the Drive Alabama hotline at 334-521-2419.