The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 months ago

Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project: The cost of doing nothing is too high

(Governor Kay Ivey/ Contributed)

For the past 25 years, serious efforts have been underway to design and eventually build a new bridge along Interstate 10 that runs through Mobile and Baldwin counties. Once completed, this bridge would relieve the growing congestion along this busy corridor that runs from Florida to California.

Building a bridge over a major shipping channel with an active waterfront, as is the case in downtown Mobile, was always going to be a challenge even when the price tag was projected to be $850 million. In recent months, the effort to consider a toll to help pay for this project – where the price tag has climbed to more than $2 billion – has only added to the challenge.

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Most people agree a new bridge is necessary. However, the most significant obstacle has always been how to pay for it. As governor, I am committed to looking at all reasonable solutions to move this project forward.

In February, I told President Trump that I strongly support his major new infrastructure package. However, we all know that waiting on Washington to agree on anything isn’t a realistic option. Besides, if additional federal funding comes, there would be provisions to lower the toll which, based on the current proposal, would be about $2.25 per vehicle for those who use the bridge on a regular basis.

A little history…

Tolls have been used since the 1920s to connect Alabama’s coastal counties. The old Cochrane Bridge had a $1 per car toll. And in 1941, a toll plaza for the Bankhead Tunnel was installed when it opened, charging motorists 25 cents per car.

Almost one million vehicles traveled through the Bankhead Tunnel during its first year of use. This toll remained until the mid-1970s and would amount to $4.25 today if it had remained.

Thirty-two years later, when the Wallace Tunnel opened in 1973, the capacity was approximately 36,000 vehicles.

Today, almost 50 years later, the daily traffic count numbers are around 75,000 vehicles with holidays and summer traffic often seeing upwards of 100,000 vehicles per day.

Throw in a wreck or breakdown — there were 132 crashes from June 2018 to May 2019 during peak travel times — and it is not uncommon for drivers to have delays of 75 minutes or more.

One can only imagine how long the delays and backups will be when the daily traffic count is 100,000 in the not-too-distant future.

Fast forward to today…

One obvious reason for the congestion is the Wallace Tunnel and existing Bayway are only four-lanes wide. To meet our growing needs, the Bayway needs to become an eight-lane bridge. Because of anticipated growth of the metropolitan Mobile area, there will be added roadway congestion in this already-busy area. The plans to move Mobile Regional Airport to the Brookley Aeroplex is just one example of an already crowded area becoming even more so in years to come.

Additionally, we have been told that the existing Bayway, which was is over 40 years old, cannot be widened without being raised, requiring a new structure if we are going to use the Federal dollars we are seeking.

Since Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005 washed away numerous roads and bridges, including some along I-10, new bridges along coastal regions are now required to meet a 100-year storm surge level.

Another key factor that has added to the cost – perhaps one of the most important – is the required height of a new Mobile River Bridge. As you know, the State recently committed $100 million over the next decade to improving the Port of Alabama which has a $22 billion annual economic impact on our state.

And by working closely with Senator Shelby and the rest of the Alabama Congressional Delegation, efforts are already underway to ensure our port has an even greater impact in the future by being able to take the biggest cargo ships in the world.

Planning for this growth – both cargo ships and even larger cruise ships – requires the bridge to be raised from its original design of 190 feet to 215 feet. We must position our state for the next 50 to 100 years as a world leader in trade and commerce.

Some new Federal dollars are on the way

Last month, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and our federal delegation announced that Alabama was selected for a $125 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grant to help finance the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project.

While we are grateful for this grant, it represents just 6% of the total estimated cost.

Finding the money to pay for this project – the biggest infrastructure project in our state’s history – was never going to be easy. Be assured, we will continue to look to Washington for additional help that can make this project a reality.

“No Toll or No Bridge”

In recent weeks, some in the “No Toll or No Bridge” camp have suggested we ought to just “slow this down” and wait until after the next presidential election.

Slowing down a project that is almost a quarter-century old seems unwise. The cost of doing nothing is too high and no one is suggesting it will get any cheaper if we just wait.

Like others, I am sensitive to those legitimate concerns of what a toll would do to working families, lower and middle-class citizens, small businesses, students and the elderly.

However, there are also countless individuals who would like the option of choosing a safer, less congested route across the Mobile River and Bay – even if it means that route will come with a toll. Keep in mind, there will always be “toll-free” options for anyone who wants or needs to cross Mobile Bay for free.

To those who say the bridge can be built without a toll, I simply ask you to show us how.

To that end, I am inviting all who have different suggestions to build the bridge to a meeting that will be held on October 7 in Montgomery. Elected leaders from local, state and federal office will be given an opportunity to show us their plan and the meeting will be open to the public.

This project is too important for us to be paralyzed by misinformation and inaction. I hope we can prove that when we work together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama.

9 months ago

Ivey: Space and Alabama go hand-in-hand

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

I am so pleased that Vice President Mike Pence has chosen Huntsville to host the National Space Council on Tuesday.

The purpose of this gathering – in the shadow of the Saturn V rocket, which was developed right here in Alabama – is to discuss the future of American human spaceflight that is so appropriate as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The past, present and future of American space leadership flows through Alabama.

The great minds at Marshall Space Flight Center also helped bring about the marvel of the Space Shuttle, which was essential to building and servicing the International Space Station, launching and servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, enabling crucial national defense missions and many more accomplishments.

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Even as we remember triumphs like these with immense national and state pride, we recognize that any nation that rests solely on its laurels will quickly find itself looking from the rear. We also understand that America’s preeminence in space is not a foregone conclusion and that much of the world looks to America to lead in space.

I laud President Trump’s active engagement by ensuring American leadership in space. Moreover, I know this is essential to not only inspire young people but, also to advance the American economy while always looking out for our national security. Reviving the National Space Council and the Space Policy Directives that have been signed, to date, signals that these are not just empty promises.

Alabama’s proud tradition of leading the way in America’s space program continues today with the Space Launch System, America’s next great ship, which has been designed, engineered and tested in Alabama and has a significant supplier base and workforce throughout our great state and around the country.

SLS isn’t about a single rocket or launch. Instead, it is a transformational national capability which will serve as the backbone of our deep space exploration efforts, enabling the return of American astronauts to the Moon and taking them further into space than ever before. In doing so, we will create new markets for the burgeoning space industry and enable greater international cooperation than ever before.

From a national security standpoint, China continues to develop their own deep space capabilities, landing the first spacecraft on the far-side of the Moon, which should serve as a clarion call that we risk losing our footing.

America’s Defense Intelligence Agency recently noted in their report, 2019 Challenges to Security in Space, that China and Russia are developing their own SLS-class rockets because they understand the importance of this super-heavy-lift capability for national exploration, defense and other purposes.

Despite challenges in developing the first super-heavy-rocket in over 50 years, SLS is coming together now and is being done carefully with safety as a top priority, especially since it will be carrying crews to deep space beginning with its second flight.

We have learned much over the last several years and it’s all coming together now – the supplier base is reinvigorated, we’ve implemented new technologies in designing and building and we’re seeing significant improvements in schedule with each new rocket under construction.

To date, the test articles for SLS have been produced and most are in test stands at Marshall right now; the first flight rocket is in final integration at Michoud Assembly Facility and three of the five segments have already been joined together. Eventually, the enormous liquid hydrogen tank and engine section will be added to the rocket. The second SLS launch vehicle, is already well underway in production to launch crew in 2022.

Additionally, the Exploration Upper Stage that is being developed at Marshall will provide a critical increase in capability when it launches in 2024, boosting SLS performance from 27 metric tons to the vicinity of the moon to 45 metric tons. We respectfully disagree with the FY’20 budget request about deferring this work – it’s an essential part of our capability and Congress has repeatedly directed that this work continue to be ready by 2024.

Some have proposed that NASA consider alternative launch vehicles for the first Orion flight, given the challenges with launching a brand-new rocket of this unparalleled capability by a date certain in mid-2020. But with all due respect to the critics, we have seen that even two heavy lift rockets are incapable of accomplishing what SLS can do in a single launch. For that reason – and in our collective view – we must stay the course, accelerate the SLS schedule and keep the integrated Exploration Mission 1 to test SLS and Orion together. Doing so will provide crucial data to mitigate the substantial risks posed by deep space missions.

Time is of the essence, not only to ensure that American taxpayer’s investments are well spent, but because we must seize the initiative and solidify American leadership in space once again.

Again, I welcome Vice President Pence and the National Space Council to Alabama, and I appreciate President Trump’s strategic focus on space. Alabamians have been crucial to building America’s great space heritage and, once again, we are actively engaged in leading the new era of deep space exploration.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama.

10 months ago

Kay Ivey: An Alabama solution to rebuilding the Alabama Corrections System

(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)

In order to correct a problem, you must first admit there is a problem. In Alabama, we have a problem. Our problem is our state’s corrections system.

Like many other states, issues of violence, poor living conditions and mental illness persist within our system. These issues, and others, are exacerbated by a crowded inmate population, correctional and health care staffing challenges, and aging prison infrastructure – each piece compounding the others.

We have a problem in Alabama, and we have waited far too long to address it. The path forward to resolve these problems is clear and obvious. However, this path is neither quick nor simple.

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First, we must increase our correctional staffing levels by improving the pay scale for correctional officers and expanding our recruiting efforts. Second, we must construct prison facilities that meet the needs of a criminal justice system in the 21st century.

We have already started making strides toward reducing our prison population and increasing staffing levels. In 2015, the Alabama Legislature passed historic criminal justice reform legislation that greatly reduced the number of inmates in Alabama prisons. Thanks to members of the Legislature, the state’s prison population has decreased from nearly 200 percent of capacity to approximately 160 percent, still too large but an important step in the right direction.

Also in 2018, the Legislature helped improve our system by increasing funding for correctional and health services staffing. An additional $86 million was appropriated for the state’s 2018 and 2019 fiscal years to retain new staffing for medical and mental health services and to reduce the turnover rate of correctional staffing. For the upcoming regular session, my budget proposal will include an additional $31 million to hire 500 new correctional officers and increase the pay scale for all security personnel to make their salary competitive given current market conditions in Alabama.

Alabama currently sits under a federal court order requiring the state to roughly double the number of correctional officers in the next two years. Although I disagree with many aspects of the lawsuit that led to this order, the fact of the matter is that it compels us to make staffing levels a necessary and vital part of the solution to our problem.

In December, we saw our first increase in the number of correctional officers in years. With a rising retention rate, we can begin adding to our officer ranks, rather than simply maintaining our current staffing levels. This is a difficult task, but because of the commitment from members of the Legislature, we are now well on our way to addressing our staffing challenges.

Next, we must improve the conditions in which we house inmates. “Deplorable,” “horrendous” and “inadequate” are words which have been used to describe them. Our existing facilities need $750 million in maintenance alone. Last year, we closed the Draper Correctional Facility, a 79-year-old prison, because it was simply too costly to repair. Without costly maintenance, many other facilities may require closing as well. Repairing these facilities that do not meet the needs of today’s criminal justice system would be wasteful and ineffective. We must put aside politics of the past and fix this problem for the betterment of our state.

Alabama must have new prison facilities because we must have better conditions, we must have better safety, and we must have better programs. The Department of Corrections hired a project management team that recommended we build three new regional men’s prisons. Of the three new facilities, one will have additional space centralizing services for special needs populations: the aged, the infirmed and those with mental health conditions. Additionally, there will be space in each new facility for educational and vocational training programs.

These facilities will be a valuable and lasting investment in the future of our state. On average, 95 percent of our inmates, once they have completed their sentence and are eligible for release, will be returning to the cities, towns, communities and neighborhoods within Alabama. This investment will secure our opportunity to release these individuals back into society as more educated and more productive, law-abiding citizens.

The investment in these new facilities will also ensure that we retain control of our correctional system. Across this nation, federal courts are intervening in unprecedented ways into the operations of correctional systems. In 2009, three federal judges ordered the release of thousands of inmates in the California prison system. Some estimate this order resulted in the release of more than 40,000 inmates. Following the release of these inmates, one study into the impact of this mass release called the increases in crime rates “alarming.” So, our public safety also demands this investment.

Today, the Department of Corrections is preparing a “request for proposals” for distribution to contractors in Alabama and across the nation, asking for bids to build these new prisons. By taking this step, we will – for the first time – receive the most accurate view of the real cost of building these new facilities.

Some opponents of this plan say that it is too costly. Here in Alabama and across our country, we have a set of laws to which every person must adhere. However, no matter what crime was committed, every human being deserves a certain level of care. I say to you that it is and will continue to be costly to provide adequate living conditions and health care for the more than 20,000 adults in our corrections system, to maintain aging facilities, and to sustain public safety.

Others say special interests have a hand in this plan; that could not be further from the truth. In fact, I make a promise to you that part of this next step is to publicly provide the real costs we receive from contractors and to work closely with the Legislature to determine the most cost-effective way of moving forward. Whatever we do will be the best and most fiscally responsible decision for the state of Alabama.

A tough decision will have to be made in the very near future. With the continued support from the Alabama Legislature and with the added support from the people of Alabama, I am putting forth this plan to make “Trouble in Alabama Prisons” a headline of the past.

As we work together, we will solve this problem and make the situation better for those incarcerated, the employees who care for them, and the entire state of Alabama.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama

2 years ago

Gov. Kay Ivey: Putting faith first

(Governor K. Ivey/Flickr)

My faith has always come first for me. From my earliest days on our family farm in lower Alabama, to my teenage years when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, and every single day since. That’s why as Governor, protecting religious freedom, and our values, remains my top priority. And make no mistake: our Christian values are under attack.

This week as Alabamians across the state gathered together to celebrate Easter with friends and family, I was reminded of the unique rights and freedoms the Constitution provide for us to openly express our faith.

These freedoms, however, shouldn’t be taken for granted; They did not come freely, and we must remain vigilant to preserve this precious liberty.

Nearly a year ago, I placed my hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution, and as your Governor, I’ve stood strong in my commitment.

When I accepted Christ as my Savior, I made a decision to follow Jesus and allow him to be Lord of my life. I understand first hand that faith in God is more than a set of beliefs, it’s a way of life. No law or government should ever stand in the way of that walk of faith.

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As Governor, I am dedicated to ensuring your religious freedom is protected regardless of where you are – whether at church, your home or place of business. But we haven’t stopped there.

We know that an attack on a fellow American’s faith is an attack on our own, which is why Alabama joined together with other states to defend the right of every American to live out their faith.

As a pro-life conservative, I believe our Constitutional rights begin at conception. Fighting for our freedoms also means fighting to defend the unborn.

That’s why I supported President Trump’s action to rollback Obama-era regulations and stop the use of taxpayer money to pay for abortions. Prohibiting the use of Medicaid dollars for abortions or abortion-related services is another important step towards saving the unborn, and I will continue to defend those who can’t defend themselves.

Religious liberty is a founding principle of our nation, and as your Governor, I am working every day to protect those rights.