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.

5 months ago

Marsh: State will see infrastructure improvements within months

(Wikicommons)

For more than a year, state lawmakers have conducted meetings with different groups about Alabama’s infrastructure needs, along with the use of recent university research to help back up a gas tax increase that would raise about $350 million for critical infrastructure projects.

The result – the Rebuild Alabama Act, which took only a five-day legislative session to pass.

“The reason it only took five days is because this had been a methodical process – we met with anyone who had anything to do with infrastructure, from city and county officials, ALDOT, asphalt and concrete groups, the docks – and the meetings were open to all who wanted to attend,” said Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston). “We were looking at our needs 20 years down the road as well. We also looked at studies from the University of Alabama and Auburn University to get the facts. The facts were known.”

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The Rebuild Alabama Act raises the tax per gallon by six cents beginning in September, with two cents more added in October 2020 and in October 2021 that will result in a total of 10 cents more per gallon. The gas tax was last raised in 1992. Every two years, the tax could go up by another cent without legislative approval because of a perpetual indexation. Even so, officials said it is likely that will not happen.

“Had we been using the index – the National Highway Construction Cost Index – for the past 16 years, the tax would actually have gone up a total of about a penny,” Marsh added. “We are still competitive with all our neighboring states, we still have the lowest tax burden in the nation, average median incomes are up 20 percent, yet we are going to have a major investment in our infrastructure.”

The average Alabamian will pay about $200 a year as a result of the increase.

“People have to pay $100 a month for cell phone service and other things, and they will pay only about $200 a year for this,” explained Marsh. “That is cheap, especially for all we will get in infrastructure improvements.”

So, when will they begin to reap the benefits?

“You will begin to see the benefits in about six months,” Marsh said. “This bill also allows for more accountability – it makes sure ALDOT is accountable for each project, and people will be able to see what is being done and how the money is spent.”

The bill allows for a more competitive bidding process between asphalt and concrete, whereas before the state has chosen one kind of road surface based only on the upfront cost rather than long-term sustainment. The law will provide money to deepen and widen the federal channel at the Alabama State Docks to allow for larger ships to travel to the port. There also is a system for the money to be distributed to cities and counties.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a journalist whose contribution is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Alliance for Infrastructure

5 months ago

State Sen. Andrew Jones sees ‘the funding to finish’ major I-759 project with Rebuild Alabama passage

(A. Jones/Contributed, Google Maps)

With passage of the Rebuild Alabama legislation, State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre) already has a list of projects in mind that are important to his district.

Jones, who represents a district that includes Etowah, Cherokee and DeKalb Counties, said one of those projects is the I-759 extension in east Gadsden, a project that has been in the works for decades.

From Interstate 59 in west Gadsden, it is easy to access Interstate 759. But on the eastern side, trucks, travelers, commuters and commercial traffic wanting to access major routes U.S. 431 heading to Anniston or U.S. 278 to Hokes Bluff and Piedmont must exit onto a city thoroughfare and travel through Gadsden’s streets and neighborhoods to get to those major routes.

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“I’m hopeful with the passage of this bill that we will have the funding to finish this,” Jones said. “My hope is that it can be completed in the next 15 years.”

ALDOT has for decades identified the need to extend I-759 from where it ends at George Wallace Drive to the intersection of U.S. Highway 431/U.S. 278, about a two-mile-long stretch. In 2017, ALDOT announced it will resume work on the extension, which included engineering studies and traffic studies. While some updated studies have been done, it has not advanced because funding is unavailable at this time, said Seth Burkett, ALDOT’s north region public information officer.

ALDOT had recently invested $250,000 for route planning and other recent studies.

Gadsden officials remain hopeful that the extension will happen.

“We really need the 759 extension. It’s for the people in the entire area, not just Gadsden,” said Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton. “It keeps heavy trucks and through traffic off of surface roads and will be safer and faster for everyone. We’ve been waiting a long time in line, and from all of our conversations with ALDOT, we hear that we are at the top of the list.”

When funding is secure, right-of-way acquisition will begin and utilities relocated. Officials expect it to improve traffic flow, lead to safer travel in the downtown Gadsden area, improve public safety and support future economic development.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a journalist whose contribution is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Alliance for Infrastructure

6 months ago

Larger ships used for auto transport require modernization of Alabama’s seaport

(Sebastian the Sailor/YouTube)

Cargo ships are getting larger – and that is a good thing. More goods shipped in one trip means everyone saves money – from shippers all the way to the consumer.

The Alabama State Port Authority in Mobile handles more than 58 million tons in total volume annually, ranking it 11th largest in the nation. It is the second largest steel port in the nation and the third largest export coal port in the nation. The port’s public and some private terminals are responsible for 153,278 jobs throughout the state, and has a $25.1 billion economic impact.

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The larger the ship, however, the deeper and wider the water channel needs to be for the ship to travel to public and private shipping terminals. Mobile’s federal port channel is not deep enough to handle the new, larger ships that will be coming.

“Ships are now being built 1,200 to 1,300 feet long, requiring 50 feet of water in the channel,” said Brian Harold, managing director of ATM Terminals Mobile, a subsidiary of A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, the largest container shipping company in the world. “The Panama Canal can now handle those larger ships, and more than 60 percent of the cargo in Mobile comes from the Far East. We compete with all U.S. ports for this cargo.”

Most of the world’s goods are now shipped in containers transported on ships, trains and trucks. The port has invested about $1 billion in infrastructure in the past 20 years to handle growth. Walmart located its newest direct import distribution center there – one of only six it has in the world – meaning even more business for the port.

And, a lot of jobs.

Other huge recent announcements include a $60 million automobile roll-on, roll-off terminal locating at the port. Automobiles are Alabama’s top export, and the companies involved are among the largest such terminal operators in the Americas. Also, MTC Logistics is building a state-of-the-art, international temperature-controlled distribution center for import and export cargo.

If the port does not deepen its channel, shippers will lose out to other ports, including Savannah, GA; New Orleans, LA; and Charleston, SC, which are already in the process of making changes, said Jimmy Lyons, port director.

“We’ve built and expanded facilities to add capacity for Alabama shippers, to help them get the best possible rates they can,” Lyons said. “This is of paramount importance – it is an issue of competitiveness for our shippers.” Shippers will have to use other ports, at greater truck distances and cost, affecting roads and economic development as a whole.

Modernizing the Mobile channel is a $396 million federal project, with the state’s share sitting at $146 million, Lyons said. The channel, which sits at 45 feet now, needs to be at 50 feet to handle the larger ships.

“The amount is beyond our bonding capability,” Lyons said.

The channel project is included in Gov. Kay Ivey’s recently-released Rebuild Alabama plan that calls for increasing the state’s fuel tax. It will pay for infrastructure needs statewide, with a separate portion of the revenues going to pay a bond to be issued to finance the project.

“The deepening and widening of the Port of Mobile is a once-in-a-lifetime economic development opportunity. This project has the ability to transform Mobile and our state’s economy for the next 100 years,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a study on the project, and has already identified that about two-thirds of the port’s vessel traffic is restricted in some way. That study should be finished later this year, and if everything falls into place, the project will begin at the end of 2020 and take three years to complete.

“The ships will get bigger, and while the port’s cranes and other dock infrastructure can support larger vessels, we already have some ships that can’t come in here and have to go elsewhere,” Harold said. “People have to understand that having a major deep-sea port in your state is something that other states would love to have, and opportunities are missed if you don’t create the infrastructure needed.”

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a journalist whose contribution is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Alliance for Infrastructure

6 months ago

Trussville’s rapid growth pressures area’s infrastructure

(Pixabay, YHN)

The city of Trussville in east Jefferson County is growing quickly – by just about every measure. That is a good thing – except, of course, for traffic.

Trussville’s main thoroughfare, U.S. Highway 11, which also runs right through downtown, handles the vast majority of traffic.

Although there is an approved ALDOT plan to widen U.S. 11 from the Interstate 459/59 interchange to the outer edge of downtown Trussville, the federal funding is not in place, said Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat. The city has already acquired right-of-way, he said.

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“As we continue to grow, that interchange backs up to the point where it becomes a parking lot,” Choat said.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) said the interchange is a pressing issue.

“There is a desperate need for one or two more lanes on either side of U.S. 11 to handle the traffic,” he outlined. “The economy is good. There are more trucks on the road, houses are going up, we have some new schools, new school buses, and there is a lot of new commercial and residential development. We are hoping to get some time knocked off everyone’s commute. We don’t have enough road for the demand.”

Meanwhile, the city is embarking on some projects that should, for now, help take some of the traffic off of U.S. 11 and other areas, as well as develop Trussville’s downtown into an entertainment district; and plan how best to handle future growth.

Details include:

• The city should complete this summer a $4.2 million project that extends Valley Road to the Pinnacle shopping center on U.S. 11, to provide another entrance into the shopping center for residents as well as motorists who see the shopping center off I-59 but do not know how to get to it.

“This will be a great addition for us, and should spur development in the Valley Road area,” said Diane Poole, executive director of the Trussville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The road will be parallel to I-59, and signage will direct travelers to the route.

• Over the next several months, the city plans to build two connecting loops to Highway 11 downtown, one by Edgar’s Bakery and one by Waterson Parkway, which will include stoplights. The loops should help relieve congestion in the main downtown intersection and bypass the main intersection, officials said. This will be very beneficial to the new downtown district, officials say, especially as they attempt to create more pedestrian-friendly areas.

• Trussville’s new entertainment district is expected to get under way this summer. It includes sidewalks and other beautification, a stage pavilion, park, brewery, a pedestrian-friendly area and more than a dozen restaurants and other retail. The city purchased a former furniture store to tear down for the redevelopment.

• This month, Choat announced a new initiative, Trussville 2040, that will focus on several areas – education, roads and transportation, public safety and other community needs. Citizens can sign up online for committees to help develop the plan at a special website set up by the city.

“Our leaders are very aware of the safety concerns here, and they have a handle on what needs to be done and are addressing those issues,” Poole said. “The city has hired more police, and added firefighters and paramedics to address our growth.”

Theresa Howard, co-owner with Layne Ross of The Straw Hat, a women’s apparel shop downtown on U.S. 11, said she is keeping up with what the new district will mean for businesses. For now, she said, the traffic has actually helped her business.

“We have cute windows to display our clothes items, and people stopped in traffic downtown look in our windows and call us about buying it,” Howard said. “We are waiting to see what a pedestrian district here will do for our business.”

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a journalist whose contribution is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Alliance for Infrastructure

6 months ago

Concerns continue in south Alabama for ‘dangerous’ Highway 98

(YHN)

Fred Kelly has lived near U.S. Highway 98 in Mobile County for decades. At least three times a day, he hears the emergency services sirens up the hill from his house heading to yet another wreck on the busy two-lane highway.

“People get hurt on that highway every day,” Kelly said. “Many people just don’t realize how hard it is for people who have to go this way every day.”

Highway 98, a major east-west, two-lane route in the county that is frequently traveled by commercial vehicles, local residents and beachgoers on their way to Interstate 10 and the Alabama Gulf Coast, is dubbed “Bloody 98” for its many severe traffic accidents. Wrecks on this curvy highway can back up traffic more than 10 miles.

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“People who know just don’t get onto 98 to get home,” said State Sen. Jack Williams (R-Wilmer). “People will go 20 miles out of their way, down dirt roads or however they can to avoid it. What ought to be a 20-minute drive for people who live in Mississippi but work in Mobile and vice versa is an hour or more.”

State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) agreed.

“It’s one of the most dangerous highways in the state,” he stated. “Anything would be an improvement.”

Work began in 2001 to build a new four-lane extension of U.S. 98, but environmental litigation in 2008 and other setbacks took the project off the front burner. Plans were redesigned, and more right-of-way purchased so that the project would be more environmentally sensitive.

“It’s been on the radar for a long time,” said Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson, whose western-area district includes 98. “Our concerns are for our constituents who have to travel this road daily. It is dangerous.”

But now, work has started back in earnest, thanks to a $40 million funding windfall from the 2016 BP oil spill settlement. In 2017, ALDOT restarted work on the U.S. 98/SR-158 extension project, broken into several segments so that local contractors can participate in the construction as funding is available. The $160 million, 12-mile SR 158 extension will connect with the new U.S. 98 west of Mobile. Environmental concerns are being addressed in several ways.

The ultimate goal is to have a new two-lane road, so far dubbed the new 98, from the Mississippi state line to Schillinger Road. It will run parallel to the “old” 98, which still will be in operation, but is undergoing safety improvements, including center lane rumble strips.

“We’re hoping at least a half of the traffic on 98 will move onto the new road,” Williams said. “The new 98 won’t have stoplights, so we’re hoping more trucks will use it.”

Since 2017, steps underway include:

September 2017: An eastbound bridge extension project begins on U.S. 98 over Big Creek Lake. The $5.5 million project finished in fall 2018.

December 2018: A 2.7-mile project begins east of Glenwood Road to west of SR 217 (Lott Road) in Semmes. It should be finished by fall 2021.

April 2018: Work begins on the SR-158 extension, a 1.5-mile project that starts east of Lott Road to the junction of Schillinger Road in Semmes. It also includes building two more bridges. It should be finished in fall 2019.

The two lanes on the new 98 are anticipated to be complete by 2022, which will complete the link from Mississippi to Interstate 65. The new 98 will have enough room on either side to expand to four lanes should funding become available.

“I’d like to eventually see both roads four-laned for safety,” Hudson said. “We’re just excited and happy it’s active and we look forward to having the new road.”

Kelly, who serves on an ALDOT community outreach committee that informs residents of the progress, is pleased.

“It should have been done years ago … but ALDOT is doing the best they can with the money they have,” he said.

ALDOT plans to let four more projects, including construction of a Lott Road overpass, a bridge on Glenwood Road, construction of a bridge on Wilmer-Georgetown Road over U.S. 98, and paving the original U.S. 98 project from the Mississippi line to east of Glenwood Road. The entire project is expected to finish in about six years.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a journalist whose contribution is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Alliance for Infrastructure