U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) historic work as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee continues to pay off in huge ways for the Yellowhammer State.
As part of two Fiscal Year 2020 funding packages given final passage by the Senate on Thursday, Shelby secured funding that will enable construction of the Birmingham Northern Beltline to soon resume. Governor Kay Ivey’s office lauded this achievement and what the projects means to the state in a release.
In 2014, the Alabama Department of Transportation projected that the entire project would be completed by 2054. However, construction on the project, which is estimated to cost $5.3 billion total, has been stalled since 2016 due to a halt in federal funding.
Funding for the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), of which the Northern Beltline is a key component, is included in the legislation that is now heading to President Donald Trump’s desk. The president is set to sign the measures either Thursday or Friday. Alabama is expected to receive enough funding to meaningfully advance construction on the Northern Beltline, Ivey’s office noted.
“We thank Senator Shelby for his leadership and are pleased to announce that this funding is going to enable the state to resume construction of the Birmingham Northern Beltline,” Ivey said in a statement. “This is very exciting news for the Birmingham region and our entire state due to the enormous benefits this corridor will bring to our state and the nation.”
Shelby advised, “Completing the Appalachian Development Highway System is a priority for Alabama and the millions of people throughout the Appalachian region in other states. Investing in this transportation program will help generate economic development opportunities across numerous areas throughout Appalachia — especially at home in Alabama.”
Local elected officials and economic development leaders seem to share this sentiment.
Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens stated, “We thank Senator Shelby, Representative Aderholt, and the rest of our Alabama delegation for recognizing the importance of this major infrastructure project for our region and the state. Completing the Birmingham Northern Beltline is vital for Jefferson County, the economic engine of the state. We look forward to continuing to work with local, state, and federal partners to accelerate completion of the Northern Beltline.”
Birmingham Business Alliance interim president and CEO Fred McCallum also lauded the news.
“The Northern Beltline will enable us to compete for major economic development projects by providing interstate access in areas that are currently isolated from the national transportation system,” he outlined. “It is estimated that post-construction benefits will include thousands of new jobs and a more efficient transportation system for people and businesses who create jobs. We are supported by strong leaders in Montgomery and Washington, like Governor Ivey and Senator Shelby, who understand the magnitude a transformative project like the Northern Beltline can have on the economy of our entire state.”
At a Yellowhammer News Shapers event earlier this year in Trussville, Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) decried that the federal permitting process is another ongoing issue for the Northern Beltline project, funding aside. Palmer wants streamlining and speeding up of the permitting process, especially for infrastructure construction.
“The Northern Beltline is the key not just to Birmingham but for the whole region — maybe even the whole state — in terms of our future economic development and in terms of keeping us from becoming like Atlanta or Nashville, where our economic development overwhelms our infrastructure,” Palmer added.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn