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’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.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
In a few days, America will celebrate her 244th birthday.
Traditionally, many towns and cities around the country light up the night with fireworks and music festivals. In 1776, John Adams predicted that Independence Day would be “celebrated by succeeding generations” with “pomp and circumstance … bonfires and illuminations.”
However, largely because of COVID-19, this year’s observance of our country’s birth will likely be a bit more subdued than previous years. While unfortunate, this is certainly understandable.
Today – and very likely in the days that will follow – instead of talking about what unites us as one nation – other conversations will occur that are, quite frankly, a bit more difficult and challenging.
My personal hope – and prayer – for this year’s 4th of July is that the marvel of our great country – how we started, what we’ve had to overcome, what we’ve accomplished and where we are going – isn’t lost on any of us.
We are all searching for “a more perfect union” during these trying and demanding days.
Over the past several weeks, our nation has been having one of those painful, yet overdue, discussions about the subject of race.
The mere mention of race often makes some people uncomfortable, even though it is a topic that has been around since the beginning of time.
Nationally, a conversation about race brings with it the opportunity where even friends can disagree on solutions; it also can be a catalyst to help total strangers find common ground and see things eye-to-eye with someone they previously did not even know.
Here in Alabama, conversations about race are often set against a backdrop of our state’s long – and at times – ugly history on the subject.
No one can say that America’s history hasn’t had its own share of darkness, pain and suffering.
But with challenge always comes opportunity.
For instance, Montgomery is both the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the cradle of the Confederacy. What a contrast for our Capital City.
The fact is our entire state has, in many ways, played a central role in the ever-evolving story of America and how our wonderful country has, itself, changed and progressed through the years.
Ever since the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of Alabamians – of all races, young and old – have taken to the streets of our largest cities and smallest towns in protest to demand change and to seek justice.
These frustrations are understandable.
Change often comes too slowly for some and too quickly for others. As only the second female to be elected governor of our state in more than 200 years, I can attest to this.
Most of us recognize that our views on issues such as race relations tend to grow out of our own background and experiences. But, fortunately, our views can change and broaden as we talk and learn from each other.
As a nation, we believe that all people are created equal in their own rights as citizens, but we also know that making this ideal a reality is still a challenge for us.
Even with the election of America’s first African-American president 12 years ago, racial, economic and social barriers continue to exist throughout our country. This just happens to be our time in history to ensure we are building on the progress of the past, as we take steps forward on what has proven to be a long, difficult journey.
Folks, the fact is we need to have real discussions – as an Alabama family. No one should be under the false illusion that simply renaming a building or pulling a monument down, in and of itself, will completely fix systemic discrimination.
Back in January, I invited a group of 65 prominent African-American leaders – from all throughout Alabama – to meet with me in Montgomery to begin having a dialogue on issues that truly matter to our African-American community in this state. This dedicated group – known as Alabama United – is helping to bring some very legitimate concerns and issues to the table for both conversation and action.
As an example, Alabama will continue to support law enforcement that is sensitive to the communities in which they serve. We have thousands of dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our state every single day. But we can – and must – make certain that our state’s policies and procedures reflect the legitimate concerns that many citizens have about these important issues.
I am confident all these conversations – and hopefully many more – will lead to a host of inspirational ideas that will lead to a more informed debate and enactment of sound public policy.
We must develop ways to advance all communities that lack access to good schools, jobs, and other opportunities. As governor, I will continue to make education and achieving a good job a priority – it distresses me that some of our rural areas and inner cities face some of the greatest challenges in education.
There are other critical issues that must be addressed, and I will continue to look for solutions along with you.
Everyone knows government cannot solve these problems alone. Some of the greatest solutions will come from private citizens as well as businesses, higher education, churches and foundations. Together, we can all be a part of supporting and building more inclusive communities.
In other words, solving these problems comes from leaning on the principles that make us who we are – our faith – which is embodied in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
My beliefs on how to treat people were shaped in Wilcox County and my faith was developed at the Camden Baptist Church.
The bible tells us over and over that our number one goal is to love God with all of one’s heart and then to love our neighbor as we love our self. That is what I strive to do every day.
When anyone feels forgotten and marginalized, compassion compels us to embrace, assist and share in their suffering. We must not let race divide us. We must grow and advance together.
Being informed by our past, let us now carefully examine our future and work towards positive change. Together, we can envision an Alabama where all her people truly live up to the greatness within our grasp. We cannot change the past or erase our history… But we can build a future that values the worth of each and every citizen.
So, in closing, my hope and prayer for our country as we pause to celebrate America’s 244th birthday, is that we make the most of this moment.
As for our state, let’s make this a time to heal, to commit ourselves to finding consensus, not conflict, and to show the rest of the nation how far we have come, even as we have further to go.
These first steps – just as we are beginning our third century as a state – may be our most important steps yet.
This is our time, Alabama. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.
Ivey: Remembering my father and the greatest generation
It has been 75 years since the end of World War II. Today, May 8, we celebrate V.E. or Victory in Europe Day, the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Later this summer, we will also celebrate the 75th anniversary of V.J. or Victory in Japan Day, the formal surrender of Imperial Japan on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
Commemorating World War II and remembering those who fought is of special significance to many of us who are children of “the Greatest Generation.”
My father, Boadman Nettles Ivey, was a captain in the field artillery and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He also landed at Normandy six days after D-Day, a fact that made my first-ever trip to the Normandy American Cemetery last year extra special. Looking at all those graves of soldiers who landed at Normandy but didn’t come home alive is something I’ll never forget.
As an only child, I was extremely close to both my parents and always had a special respect for my father’s contribution to this war.
His service taught me that we truly stand on the shoulders of our previous generations. It is because of efforts of the men and women who served in World War II that we can live in such freedom today.
Growing up during the Great Depression, the men and women of “the Greatest Generation” saw a scary political landscape form across the globe that led to World War II. The lights of freedom were dimming as unspeakable atrocities were unleashed on innocent men, women and children – both in Europe and Asia.
My father was just one of millions who loved his country, understood the grave risk and proudly served in the military. He and my mother knew that he would be in harm’s way, and there would be no guarantee of his safe return. This anxiety was the norm for people all over the country who prayerfully hoped the war would reach a successful conclusion and their loved ones would return home safe and in one piece.
Unfortunately, an estimated 405,000 families received the devastating news of loss. Their unimaginable grief was in a small part soothed by the conviction that their loved one’s sacrifice had made a profound impact on the world.
For those like my father who were fortunate to return from war, most came home, went back to work and tried to get on with their lives. Few were recognized as the hero they were and more times than not, declined to be publicly acknowledged for their service.
In fact, it is not uncommon for family members to learn of their loved one’s service and say “I never knew that.” The vast majority of those from “the Greatest Generation” lived the remainder of their lives in their community doing the mundane things that individually seems unremarkable but, collectively, help make America great.
Things like folks working at their jobs, providing for their families, and expressing their faith by volunteering and serving in leadership roles in their community are ideals that are so uniquely American.
As we honor the members of “the Greatest Generation” who served 75 years ago, let us pause to reflect on the selfless work that these ordinary Americans accomplished. On both V.E. Day and V.J. Day, I hope you’ll join me by saying a prayer of thanks for those who served our country in World War II.
Also, let it serve as a reminder to us that it is the uncelebrated roles, doing the sacrificial, which is truly so important.
I’m proud to celebrate this day, not only as the conclusion of a horrible world conflict, but it was the beginning of peace. It was a peace built from the seemingly unremarkable men and women who returned home to live and work under the banner of freedom that continues to shine as a beacon for the rest of the world to see.
Today, I’m thinking of my father and the many loved ones that bravely fought for our freedom and returned to make a wonderful life for Alabama and the rest of our great nation. May God bless their memory, our great state and the United States of America.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.