1 month ago

Concerns continue in south Alabama for ‘dangerous’ Highway 98

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.

“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

Will Ainsworth: Common Core is a failed, Obama-era relic that must come to a quick and immediate end

Alabama took a strong step toward independence in its public schools this week when the State Senate approved legislation to repeal the Obama-era curriculum mandates known by most as Common Core.

Everyone agrees that Alabama needs strict academic standards that our children must meet. It is vital to economic development, it is vital to our workforce development and it is vital to our children’s future success.

Where we differ in the Common Core debate is who should set those standards.

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I believe Alabamians should determine the curriculum and standards for our state’s schoolchildren based upon our available resources, our needs and our first-hand knowledge of what makes Alabama great.

We should not rely upon some out-of-state entity or liberal, Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to determine our standards, and we certainly should not continue embracing this most damaging legacy of the disastrous Obama administration.

When Thomas Jefferson said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best,” he understood that a top-down approach and governing from afar denies the important knowledge and details that those on the local level possess.

Perhaps the most asinine theory behind Common Core mandates is the cookie cutter approach it takes to schools across our nation.

Rather than recognizing and accounting for the differences among the states, their workforce needs, and the public educations they should offer, Common Core demands an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all mandate that is typical of liberal policy pronouncements.

Moreover, the public schools in a politically conservative state like Alabama, where character education and allowing students to acknowledge God are important, are vastly different from the schools in ultra-liberal cities like San Francisco and New York City, where educators consider themselves enlightened and the groupthink doctrine of political correctness dominates.

But, in the end, the most effective argument for repealing Common Core is the fact that it has proven to be an unmitigated failure.

When Alabama first adopted Common Core roughly a decade ago, advocates labeled it as the cure-all for our public education system, but the magic elixir they promised has proven to be just a worthless bottle of snake oil.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, Alabama’s students ranked at or near the bottom in almost every education metric that was tested, and, a decade later today, our state still ranks 49th in math and 46th in reading.

For these stated reasons and too many others to detail, it is time for Alabama to abandon this liberal social experiment and chart its own, independent path toward success in education – one that is rooted in conservative principles and one that embraces long-proven, fundamental teaching concepts.

Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who filed the legislation, and the co-sponsors of his bill should be commended for working to end this unnecessary Obama-era relic. Dropping the gavel when the repeal of Common Core passed the State Senate was one of the happiest and most satisfying moments of my time in public service.

Will Ainsworth is the Republican lieutenant governor of Alabama.

2 hours ago

Bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama passes Senate

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) bill to eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama passed the State Senate as amended by a 23-7 vote on Thursday afternoon, despite a passionate filibuster by Democrats in the chamber.

The bill, SB 119, now heads to the House to take up after the legislature’s spring break next week.

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SB 119 was given a unanimous favorable recommendation on Wednesday by the Education Policy Committee.

State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) introduced a friendly amendment that was adopted by the Senate before they passed the bill. The amendment would move Alabama away from Common Core standards directly to new standards adopted by the state school board in 2021-2022 (instead of using transition standards next school year and then new standards in 2020-2021).

Gudger’s amendment also addressed concerns that the bill would inadvertently bar Alabama from utilizing things like AP tests and national certifications and exams.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL), who presides over the Senate, told Yellowhammer News Wednesday that he strongly supports the repeal of Common Core.

Update 4:20 p.m.:

Marsh released the following statement:

In the past I have made it clear that we have an elected school board who should dictate policy when it comes to education in Alabama. However it is clear that we have a dysfunctional school board who is incapable of making decisions that give our students and teachers the best chance at being successful.

We have used the Common Core standards in Alabama for nearly a decade and while we do have some blue-ribbon schools, the vast majority are severely behind. We are still ranked 46thand 49thin reading and math according to National Assessment of Educational Progress. This is unacceptable so it is time to try something new.

I have worked and will continue to work with the education community in developing high standards so that we have the most competitive and rigorous course of study in the country, we cannot accept the status quo and this is a good first step.

I want to thank the Senate for their support and their work as we ended up with a piece of legislation that went through the legislative process to become the best possible bill we could pass and addressed everybody’s concerns. This was a fantastic first step as we move to address sweeping education reform in Alabama.

RELATED: Ivey on Common Core: ‘We should be deliberate in determining a course of study for our state’

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Marsh’s bill to help build Trump’s wall passes Senate

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’ bill (R-Anniston) that would voluntarily allow a taxpayer to divert a portion or all of their own state income tax refund to We Build the Wall, Inc. passed the Senate by a vote of 23-6 on Thursday afternoon, overcoming an organized Democrat filibuster.

The bill, SB 22, now is set for a first reading in the House, which can take up the legislation after the legislature’s spring break next week.

“I thank the Senate for their support on this matter and I look forward to working with the House to give Alabamians a voice and are able to express their desire to support President Trump and stronger border security,” Marsh said in a statement.

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After Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) started a filibuster Wednesday, Marsh carried the bill over.

On Thursday, the bill was named to the Senate special order calendar and was again filibustered when it came up, this time with multiple Democrat senators joining in the effort. Republicans, seeing the filibuster was set to continue for hours, successfully adopted a cloture petition to end the filibuster so the Democrats would not continue blocking the chamber from conducting business.

“People I talk to across Alabama are sick and tired of politicians in Washington D.C. talking and nothing being done about the crisis on our borders. This bill is about sending a message to Washington that we support President Trump and his mission to secure our southern border,” Marsh advised.

He added, “Alabamians overwhelming favor securing our borders, protecting our citizens and their jobs and supporting President Trump. This bill simply allows citizens, if they choose, to send a message that they want to see our borders secured by sending a portion of their tax refund to donate to build the wall.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

BONEFROG, ‘The world’s only Navy SEAL obstacle course race’ heads to Alabama this Saturday

Do you love anything military, obstacle course or NASCAR racing-related? If so, you’ll want to head down to Talladega Superspeedway this Saturday for BONEFROG. With obstacles placed every quarter mile, BONEFROG is sure to test even the most seasoned athletes.

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Brian Carney, CEO and Founder of BONEFROG, said the race is designed to push racers past their limits and see that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

“We try to replicate the same type of obstacles we trained on in SEAL training but on a smaller and safer scale,” said Carney. “With BONEFROG you can feel the military authenticity throughout the entire event and especially throughout the course.”

This year, the race will offer several options: the 3-mile Sprint, 6-mile Challenge, 9-mile TIER-1, 8 Hour Endurance and the all-new 18+ mile TRIDENT.

For those with children, BONEFROG will also offer quarter and half-mile courses with scaled down obstacles.

Set up at Alabama’s historic Talladega Speedway, Carney says the Alabama BONEFROG race isn’t one to miss.

“There’s so much history here and we utilize every inch of the speedway to make this race stand out from any other. If you’re coming to BONEFROG to race then Talladega tops them all in that department,” Carney said.

At BONEFROG racers can expect not only to be challenged but inspired. Carney says he will never forget watching Alabama veteran, and former Dancing with the Stars contestant Noah Galloway complete the race’s Black OP’s obstacle.

“For those who don’t know, Noah’s an army vet who lost an arm and a leg in combat. To see him on the monkey bars in front of our massive American Flag taking on one of our toughest obstacles just sent chills through my body,” Carney said.

Carney continued, saying that moment continues to linger in his memory.

“To say it was inspirational would be a massive understatement. It’s stayed with me ever since and pushed me and my entire team to always strive to put on the best events we possibly can because our racers deserve just that.”

With 20,000 to 30,000 racers expected to participate in this year’s BONEFROG races, it’s safe to say popularity is unmatched.

More than just a fun and challenging race, BONEFROG partners with nonprofits, like the Navy SEAL Foundation, to give back. Carney said the company has raised over $200,000 for charity to date.

If you’re ready to test your limits and join the race, there’s still time. To register or to learn more about the company, visit the BONEFROG website at www.bonefrogchallenge.com

6 hours ago

Marsh: State will see infrastructure improvements within months

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