7 months ago

Report: Inadequate infrastructure costs average Alabama driver over $1,300 per year

MONTGOMERY — A nonpartisan, in-depth report on the state of Alabama’s infrastructure conditions released Tuesday confirms what previous research has shown: inadequate infrastructure funding is costing the average Alabamian hundreds of dollars in extra repair and operating costs, in addition to lost time.

TRIP, a national transportation research group, broke its Alabama research into seven regional reports, besides releasing its statewide findings. The group also organized local press conferences corresponding to the seven regional reports, with Montgomery, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston occurring Monday, followed by Decatur-Huntsville, Mobile and Florence on Tuesday.

While the average Alabamian anecdotally can attest to the need for improved infrastructure across the state and in their own community, TRIP’s reports turn those everyday frustrations into tangible numbers and real dollar amounts. From a public policy standpoint, the data is invaluable — and eye-opening.

The bottom line

For state legislators set to consider Governor Kay Ivey’s infrastructure plan (which will be announced Wednesday), one of the unmissable facts in the report is that the buying power of the current state gas tax is now less than 50 percent of what it was in 1992 when the tax was last adjusted.

Additionally, TRIP’s report conclusively shows that raising the gas tax by a reasonable number will actually put considerable money back in the average Alabamian’s pocket because of savings related to vehicle crash and operating costs alone.

The research advised that the total amount of vehicular operating costs caused statewide by deficient infrastructure is $2 billion annually. The financial cost of excess traffic crashes due to insufficient infrastructure is an additional $1.8 billion every year.

The third type of cost associated with infrastructure needs is that of lost time and wasted fuel due to congestion. TRIP said that another $1.5 billion is wasted annually across Alabama in this important category.

Added together, these three separate costs associated with underfunded Alabama infrastructure amounts to $5.3 billion per year — a staggering amount of money that is largely coming out of the pockets of hardworking families across the state.

“Due to inadequate state and local funding, 30 percent of major roads and highways in Alabama are in poor or mediocre condition. Driving on rough roads costs the average Alabama driver $507 annually in additional vehicle operating costs [alone],” the report explained.

“From 2013 to 2017, 4,507 people were killed in traffic crashes in Alabama,” the research said. “Traffic crashes imposed a total of $5.5 billion in economic costs in Alabama in 2017 and traffic crashes in which roadway features were likely a contributing factor imposed $1.8 billion in economic costs.”

Then, when it comes to congestion-related costs, TRIP wrote, “The state’s roads are seeing unprecedented levels of traffic, with the number of vehicle miles of travel per lane mile in Alabama increasing 40 percent from 1990 to 2015. Congested roads choke commuting and commerce and cost Alabama drivers $1.5 billion each year in the form of lost time and wasted fuel. In the most congested urban areas, drivers lose up to $990 and nearly one full work week per year sitting in congestion.”

Broken down regionally, the total annual cost of insufficient infrastructure to the average Alabamian is $1,301 in Anniston-Oxford-Gadsden, $1,846 in Birmingham, $1,467 in Florence, $1,307 in Decatur-Huntsville, $1,576 in Mobile, $1,339 in Montgomery and $1,713 in Tuscaloosa.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

In addition to the tremendous amount of money that insufficient infrastructure costs the average Alabamian, industrial and economic development are also severely impacted.

“The health and future growth of Alabama’s economy is riding on its transportation system,” TRIP noted.

“Each year, $432 billion in goods are shipped to, from and within sites in Alabama, mostly by truck. Increases in passenger and freight movement will place further burdens on the state’s already deteriorated and congested network of roads and bridges,” the report outlined. “The design, construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure in Alabama support 65,068 full-time jobs across all sectors of the state economy. These workers earn $2.1 billion annually. Approximately 940,000 full-time jobs in Alabama in key industries like tourism, retail sales, agriculture and manufacturing are completely dependent on the state’s transportation network.”

Recommendation

TRIP emphasized that the buying power of the state gas tax, last adjusted in 1992 “has been more than cut in half by inflation and increased fuel economy.”

Unfortunately, this means that the vast majority of Alabama’s current transportation budget is devoted to preserving the existing system rather than adding needed capacity.

TRIP explicitly affirmed a separate 2019 report by the University of Alabama’s Alabama Transportation Institute and Alabama Transportation Policy Research Center that said, through 2040, the Yellowhammer State should be spending a minimum of $600 million annually on additional roadway capacity to allow the state to be economically competitive.

“An annual investment of $800 million in additional roadway capacity would optimize Alabama’s economic opportunities,” TRIP concluded.

Montgomery press conference

At the capital city’s regional press conference Monday morning, a researcher and co-author of the TRIP report spoke alongside local officials and Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure Executive Director Drew Harrell.

TRIP’s Carolyn Kelly said, “[W]ithout additional funding, Alabama’s roads and bridges may deteriorate further, the already-high traffic fatality rate may rise even more and drivers and businesses will lose time and money stuck in congestion in a deficient system.”

She said that the longer Alabama waits to address the issue, the more it will cost.

“While the [annual] costs are already startling high, they’ll grow even higher in the future without adequate transportation funding and without an adequate effort to improve the condition and the efficiency of Alabama’s transportation network,” Kelly advised. “The reality is the state faces a significant and growing transportation shortfall.”

“Increasing investment in Alabama’s network of roads, bridges and transit is vital to boosting the state’s economy and the quality of life of its residents,” she added.

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange also stressed that investing in the Port of Mobile must be a statewide infrastructure priority, as the port’s economic impact is felt all across Alabama.

RELATED: Legislators move to add accountability, transparency to infrastructure spending

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

12 mins ago

On this day in Alabama history: Alabama legislature ratified the 19th Amendment

Sept. 19, 1953

The fight for the right for women to vote officially ended in 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Alabama, there was an active suffragist movement, led by the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, but opposition by some Alabama groups resulted in the Legislature not taking up the amendment, and after Tennessee signed on the issue was moot. Thirty-three years later, the Legislature decided to “record its approval of extending the right of suffrage to women” and officially ratified the 19th Amendment. Although the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association dissolved in 1920, many of its leaders and members joined the newly founded League of Women Voters, which remains active today in Alabama elections.

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51 mins ago

Canfield elected chair of Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence, Waggoner vice-chair

The Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Associated Technologies recently held its inaugural meeting, at which commission members elected Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as chairman and State Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) as vice-chairman.

The commission plans to schedule additional meetings over the next seven months, with all meetings being open to the public.

The members will deliver a report in May to Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, recommending strategies and policies on how AI and other emerging technologies will be of benefit to the Yellowhammer State’s economy.

In a statement on Thursday, Canfield explained the importance of the commission’s work.

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“Artificial intelligence is a powerful, disruptive technology that has the potential to forever change the way we live our lives and how businesses across Alabama operate,” he emphasized.

“It’s critical that we understand how AI will bring about these sweeping changes, and this Commission will help us develop insights into what the future has in store for Alabama’s citizens and businesses,” Canfield concluded.

Waggoner spearheaded the legislative resolution that formed the commission. His leadership has been, and continues to be instrumental, in this process. The powerful chair of the Senate Rules Committee identified the goal of Alabama being on the cutting edge of AI research and job creation in the technology sector.

“We want Alabama to be a leader in AI research, innovation, technology start-ups, and technology jobs,” Waggoner stated. We believe that we are competitive with other states.”

He continued, “The Commission will look at how Alabama is positioned and ready for the opportunities of tomorrow. Those are some of the issues and questions this Commission is going to answer. We will meet with key business groups and different industry sectors to understand the impact of AI and automation on their industries.”

According to Waggoner, the commission will also examine how schools and universities can develop AI-educational programs, and investigate what privacy safeguards might be needed to protect consumers.

“We want Alabama’s education system in a place where we can equip students with AI-relevant skills through engineering and technology classes and apprenticeship programs,” he added. “As we promote innovation and educational readiness, we must also protect the privacy rights of citizens, and examine whether existing state laws are effective in regulating these emerging technologies. There’s a lot of work ahead.”

The commission will be divided up into five sub-committees, focused on the following:

  • state regulations, government oversight, and potential legislative action;
  • education and workforce development;
  • healthcare and medical services;
  • future and evolving industries, economic development, and research;
  • ethics, privacy and security.

The subcommittees will begin their work in mid-October.

State Senator Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) was appointed to the commission by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). Roberts came away from the body’s initial meeting impressed at the experience and expertise of its membership.

“Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning are very complex subjects. Thankfully, I think we have some of the finest minds in our state working on this project. The sub committees that have been established will allow every person on the commission to hone in on their particular areas of expertise,” Roberts outlined.

The 25 members of the commission are as follows:

Greg Canfield – Secretary of Commerce (chairman)

Marty Redden – Acting secretary of the Alabama Office of Information Technology

Ivey’s appointees:

1. Dr. Hari Narayanan— Auburn

2. Dr. Gerry Dozier— Auburn

3. Dr. Jeff Carver – UA (Tuscaloosa)

4. Dr. Curt Carver – UAB

5. Dr. Alec Yasinac – USA

6. Dr. John Beck – UAH

7. Dr. James Cimino – UAB

8. Melvin Evans – Hand Arendall

9. Jim McLane – NaphCare

10. Jacob Kosoff – Regions Bank

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth’s appointees:

Joshua Jones – StrategyWise

Dr. Vicki Karolewics – Wallace State Community College

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon’s appointees:

Rep. Kirk Hatcher

Rep. Craig Lipscomb

Marsh’ appointees:

Sen. Jabo Waggoner (Vice-chair)

Sen. Dan Roberts

Non-Voting members appointed by the governor:

J. Michael Hardin – Provost & vice president at Samford University

John Brandt – Southern Company

Leonard Tillman – Balch & Bingham

Mike Rowell – Senior VP & CIO at ALFA Insurance

James Mizell – Senior account executive at Microsoft

Jason Asbury – NXTsoft

Dr. Syed Raza – Jefferson State Community College

An Alabama CEO, also a commission member, said artificial intelligence is on the cusp of transforming every industry.

“Artificial intelligence is rapidly changing every industry, and it is incredibly important for us as a state to think strategically about what that means to our economy,” advised Joshua Jones, CEO of Birmingham-based StrategyWise, an AI and data science consulting firm.

He concluded, “I applaud Senator Waggoner and Secretary Canfield for leading Alabama to be one of the first states to really address these opportunities and changing dynamics systematically. It sends a message to the rest of the U.S. that Alabama is serious about investing in our future, and we’re growing our tech-based ecosystem. For companies that want to leverage all that AI has to offer, we’re going to be prepared with a trained workforce, accommodating public policy, and a strong tech infrastructure.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling open to Tennessee River toll bridge — If that moves freight, freight companies, truckers ‘would just be thrilled to do it’

For decades, traffic headed west from Huntsville and other points toward the Shoals has relied upon the Captain William J. Hudson “Steamboat Bill” Memorial Bridges to cross the Tennessee River into Decatur. Once traffic crosses that bridge, it either heads south on U.S. Highway 31 toward Hartselle and Cullman, or it makes a hard-right 90-degree turn on to U.S. Highway Alternate 72 and heads toward Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield.

As the manufacturing base in northern Alabama expands, freight traffic is expected to increase at that intersection and make the turn west even more precarious for commuters and commercial traffic.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling discussed that spot and possible solutions for the future, which could include a tolling component.

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“If you were to go now and sit in the Doubletree Hotel, which is where you’re talking about there where you make that turn to go to the Shoals, and just look at the amount of freight that comes in out of Memphis — Memphis is the distribution hub for America,” Bowling said on Wednesday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show.” “And that freight that comes out of Memphis, straight down [U.S. Highway Alternate] 72, and then it makes its way across our bridge and goes various routes from there — into Huntsville, Madison, Athens, gets on [Interstate] 65, has different directions it can go from there. But whenever we start producing a thousand cars a day, we have 4,000 employees plus the tiered suppliers who will be there. The amount of freight that will come in to take care of that I believe is going to double.”

Bowling noted the situation at the Hyundai facility near Montgomery as a sign of what is to come and commended Gov. Kay Ivey for the commitment to widen the existing Interstate 565 that connects Decatur and Huntsville.

“We visited the Hyundai facility manufacturing a thousand cars a day just south of Montgomery — just-in-time deliveries: batteries, tires, things of that nature — they receive a truck a minute,” he continued. “You think widening [Interstate] 565 is important? Heck yeah, it’s important. We’re thankful Gov. Ivey is going to get that done for us in the Spring of 2020.”

The Decatur mayor said the completion of a nearby overpass for Alabama Highway 20 remains his current top priority.  Once that is completed, Bowling said exploring the possibility of an alternate route over the Tennessee River would be appropriate.

“We’re working on an overpass on [Alabama] Highway 20 where Apple Lane Farms is,” he said. “That’s Decatur, and that’s a build grant that we received for $14 million from the Federal Highway Department. We’re very thankful for that. A lot of people made that happen. Once that project gets going, then we’ll start working on the other. But we want to be sure we do everything to make sure that project gets going first.”

As for the possibility of using tolls to finance a new bridge, Bowling said he expected that those moving freight would be “thrilled” if it expedited transit and that if it would improve commuter traffic on existing structures, it could be a possibility.

“If that moves freight, I would believe that the freight companies, the truckers would just be thrilled to do it,” Bowling explained. “If we were to take the trucks off of the [U.S.] Highway 31 bridges, I believe that our commuter traffic — it would be a lot easier to make that commute. And so, we’ll see what we can do. We’ll come up with a traffic plan. We’ll do traffic counts. Things to prove it out.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

Patriot Flag to be displayed in Mobile on Thursday to honor fallen American heroes

The Patriot Flag will be displayed at the USS Alabama in Mobile on Thursday, September 19.

According to WALA Fox 10, the flag is currently on a national tour intended to honor and thank fallen American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom and safety.

Measuring 28 by 60.5 feet and weighing 50 pounds, the Patriot Flag’s nationwide journey began on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 when the flag was displayed at all three locations that were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. The tour will end in 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

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On Thursday, the flag will be unfurled at 3:00 p.m. at Battleship Memorial Park. Mobile Fire-Rescue firefighters will assist.

You can read more about the tour and see photos from previous stops here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Byrne applauds Trump administration for rescinding WOTUS rule; Says Mobile Baykeeper ‘absolutely wrong’ about environmental threat

Last week, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule, which broadened the scope of “waters” protected by the Clean Water Act.

The rule faced numerous legal challenges and was decried by farmers as an overreach.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2020, applauded the Trump administration’s decision.

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“There was a power grab by the Obama administration,” Byrne said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “They wanted to take the traditional understanding about what is the water under the Clean Water Act that the EPA can regulate it and expand it to the point where if a farmer has two or three inches of standing water in their fields, all of a sudden the EPA tells them they can or can’t plant. That’s nonsense.”

“We actually had some legislation previously on it, but the Trump administration has just rescinded that rule,” he continued. “So we have gone back to a more common-sense understanding. I mean, a small pond in your yard is not something that should be regulated by the EPA. Some standing water in a big field is not something that should be regulated by the EPA.”

Byrne cited an AL(dot)com story quoting Mobile Baykeeper’s Casi Callaway decrying the move by the Trump administration and warning the impact that revoking the rule could have on the environment.

“Casi is a friend, but she is absolutely wrong about that,” Byrne remarked. “This is just a common-sense change going back to the way it has been for decades. It has worked fine for decades. I really appreciate the Trump administration making this change. And I understand why farmers and other people in other rural parts of Alabama felt so strongly about it.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.