3 months ago

The gas tax push: Ten Alabama highway projects to consider in 2019

Now that it appears state legislators are licking their chops to raise Alabama’s gasoline tax, the question we all should be asking is, “What are we going to get out of it?”

As 2018 wound down, the push for the hike was aggressive, but details were scarce.

Obviously, we all know the big projects that have gotten the bulk of the media attention: I-565 widened from Limestone County to Huntsville, improvements to I-65 from Birmingham to Montgomery, a southern Montgomery bypass and the much-ballyhooed I-10 Mobile Bay bridge.

To get the ball rolling, here are ten not-as-publicized suggestions (in no particular order) for the state legislature to consider as part of a sales pitch to the public.

10. Four-lane AL 261 in Pelham, Helena

I can’t believe I’m in my early 40s and we’re still talking about this. For decades, Alabama Highway 261, which extends from Valleydale Road in North Shelby County to the heart of Helena, one of Birmingham’s fastest-growing suburbs, is still a heavily traveled two-lane road.

(ALDOT)

Back-ups are a commonplace heading in and out of Helena at rush hour. Allegedly, ALDOT is finally working to change that, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Back-up on Alabama Highway 261 heading east (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Perhaps improvements to AL 261 could work in tandem with four-laning Morgan Road heading northwest from Helena to I-459, or Shelby County Road 17 heading south to Montevallo.

9. Four-lane AL 53 from Ardmore to Huntsville

For whatever reason when they initially laid out the Interstate Highway System, they put I-65 20 miles to the west of downtown Huntsville. And for decades, this has been one of the Rocket City’s biggest obstacles. For those headed south on I-65, there is I-565.

(ALDOT)

However, for those headed north to Tennessee and beyond, or coming south to Huntsville, there is Alabama Highway 53, a two-lane road that transitions to Tennessee State Highway 7 in Ardmore, a municipality that straddles the Tennessee-Alabama state line.

Coming from Nashville on I-65, the exit is signed for Ardmore and Huntsville. But depending on the time of day, the day of the week, you might be better off continuing south to US Highway 72 or I-565.

(Google Maps)

8. Improvements to AL186/U.S. 80 from I-85/Wire Road exit to Phenix City

(ALDOT)

Once upon a time, U.S. Highway 80 was a significant national east-west thoroughfare. Some of it still is, but the Interstate Highway System has made much of it a backroad. If you’ve traveled east from Tuskegee toward Phenix City, you might have seen some of the remnants of U.S. 80’s hay day, where it splits with U.S. Highway 29.

(Postcard/Patrick Owens Photography)

This portion of U.S. 80 remains useful because it connects Phenix City to Montgomery, and, by extension, Columbus, Ga.

Someday, this could be a part of the proposed Interstate 14, a thoroughfare that could pass through the heart of Alabama, running parallel to U.S. 80 from York to Selma to Montgomery to Phenix City/Columbus, and beyond to Macon, Ga.

7. Four-laning U.S. 84 Andalusia to Mississippi line

U.S. Highway 84 in Alabama has been one of the curiosities of the U.S. Highway System. Old Alabama roadmaps show that it has evolved over the past 90 years.

From time to time, portions have been four-laned from the Georgia-Alabama line to headed west. Bypasses for Enterprise, Elba and Opp have been added over the years. But for whatever reason, the progress has stalled west of Andalusia to Mississippi. Once it crosses the Alabama-Mississippi state line, it continues as a four-lane road through Laurel and Brookhaven all the way to Natchez.

Four-laning the road would once and for all connect Monroeville to the outside world by a four-lane highway. Monroe County’s isolation by automobile has been a chronic complaint since the turn of the century.

(Wikipedia Commons)

It would also connect Choctaw County to the rest of Alabama, which functions more as part of Mississippi these days given its proximity to Meridian.

6. Dothan interstate connector to I-10 in Florida

Whenever there is talk about a new Interstate highway, Dothan residents’ eyes perk up, and the local media take notice.

(ALDOT)

Throughout its history, Dothan has been somewhat fortunate with its highways. There are five different four-laned routes in all directions, like spokes on a wheel, from Ross Clark Circle, the road that functions as a beltway for Dothan.

When U.S. 231 was four-laned as part of the Florida Short Route in the middle part of the last century, there was something of a boom that extended from Dothan into Florida – roadside produce stands, barbecue joints, tourist attractions. Some of that still exists, but now there are also fireworks stands, lottery ticket terminals and bingo, depending on which side of the state line you are on.

Auxiliary guide sign posted for I-10 Exit 130 in Florida, referencing the U.S. 231 connection to Dothan (Google Maps)

There is a history of that stretch being something of a gateway to Florida for much of the country, and it would be appropriate for some sort of controlled-access spur connecting Interstate 10 to Dothan.

Obviously, this would require cooperation from the state of Florida. People in Houston County seem to want to be connected to the Interstate Highway System, and this might be their best bet.

5. US 278 improvements Cullman-Gadsden-Georgia State line

One of the many roads heading west from Atlanta into Alabama is U.S. Highway 278. Initially, U.S. 278 was probably intended to serve as an alternate route to U.S. 78, which passes through Anniston, Birmingham and Jasper, before it reconnects with U.S. 278 in Hamilton.

(ALDOT)

Given easy connectivity to Atlanta is a premium for communities in Alabama, four-laning U.S 278 from the Georgia line to Cullman would better the economic prospects for Cherokee and Etowah Counties. Beyond Attalla into Blount and Cullman Counties, the potential four-lane route would be useful as the Birmingham metropolitan area expands northward.

Signage to Atlanta at the US 278-US 431 split near Gadsden (Google Maps)

4. U.S. 331 four-laned from Montgomery to Florida state line

If you’re going to anywhere along 30A in Florida from central and northern Alabama, you’ve used U.S. Highway 331 and traveled through Luverne, Brantley, perhaps Opp and DeFuniak Springs, Fla. Likewise, if you’ve had to evacuate from 30A anywhere north because of the threat from a hurricane, you’ve probably made the reverse journey.

(ALDOT)

This route is for both tourist and public safety reasons. It also might lend a boost to the local economies along U.S. 331, which are victims of the globalization trend that began in the 1990s.

Looking out at US 331 in Luverne headed south (Jeff Poor/YHN)

3. North-south thoroughfare improvements on Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore

One of Alabama’s least-known traffic nightmares is any of the north-south routes along the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. On paper, Fairhope is within a stone’s throw of Mobile. But if you’re making that commute up U.S. Highway 98 to Interstate 10 and across the bay, you best allow for an hour of driving time.

ALDOT)

There are several ideas on the table to make this better and improvements to I-10 across Mobile Bay from Spanish Fort will undoubtedly help that commute. A new bridge across the bay may also encourage more development in that part of Baldwin County, which will make getting to I-10 that much harder.

Back-up on Interstate 10 heading east near the Alabama Highway 181 Malbis exit (Jeff Poor/YHN)

2. Four-lane connecting Huntsville to Georgia state line Atlanta-bound

Now that Huntsville is officially one of the “big kids” of Alabama cities, it is odd that there is not a good way to get from there to Atlanta. Put Huntsville to Atlanta in your GPS, and it’s going to suggest taking some backroads.

(ALDOT)

Huntsville is in a geographical predicament. Natural barriers like the Tennessee River and Sand Mountain prevent a bulldozer from making a straight line between the two cities.
If they started tomorrow, a project like this would take decades to complete. The thing is, they’ve already been talking about it for decades.

Mentone — a spot in northeastern Alabama on Google Maps’ suggested Huntsville-Atlanta route (Google Maps)

1. North-south freeway, parallel to U.S. 43 from Mobile to I-20/59, and beyond up through NW Alabama to the Shoals

There aren’t shortages of east-west routes in Alabama, but there does seem to be a shortage of north-south routes. Consider the path Interstate 65 takes from Mobile to Birmingham. It isn’t a straight line because it takes a humongous northeastern direction so that it passes through Montgomery. Then it heads slightly northwest from Montgomery to Birmingham.

(ALDOT)

If you draw a straight line from Mobile to Birmingham, the closest you get to downtown Montgomery is 70 miles. Yet, when they laid out the route for U.S. Highway 31, which was the basis for I-65, it passed through Montgomery.

(SiteAtlas.com)

A new north-south route through western Alabama would fix that. If it followed U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile to the Shoals, it could shave time off the journey for those making the trip between two of Alabama’s major cities.

Also, GPS systems sometimes suggest an excursion through Mississippi down U.S. Highway 45 to get to points within the state of Alabama. Yes, to get from Tuscaloosa to Citronelle, the fast way is through Meridian, Miss. and down a four-lane U.S. 45.

Google Maps’ suggested route from Tuscaloosa to Citronelle (Google Maps)

The idea of a north-south route through the Black Belt and up through the hill country of northwestern Alabama isn’t a new one. It’s been talked about for decades.

It’s time to show the western half of the state that is north of Mobile and south of Tuscumbia a little love. Granted, aside from Tuscaloosa, there isn’t a whole lot there. However, if we’re going to dump endless sums of money into trying to alleviate poverty in the Black Belt, consider infrastructure, which would be improved access to the rest of the state.

North of Tuscaloosa – ask yourself, when was the last time you were in Lamar County? How about Fayette County? For most, it has probably been a while, if ever. Yet, places like Vernon and Fayette survive as outposts on the Alabama frontier. That seems odd in 2019.

Lamar Theatre in Vernon (Jeff Poor/YHN)

The Tenn-Tomm Waterway, a project which had billions of federal dollars pumped into it over the last half of last century, hasn’t been the expected panacea for West Alabama. Perhaps combined with a controlled-access north-south freeway, that could change and make the areas around Tombigbee River more lucrative for companies looking to build manufacturing facilities.

It is a part of Alabama that sure could use the help.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

Couple creates restaurant-retail campus on Alabama Gulf Coast

It’s been 35 years since Brian Harsany got his first job in the restaurant industry, and he never looked back. Brian started busing tables and washing dishes in 1983 while in high school, and later went on to major in hotel and restaurant management at Florida State University. His degree and experience took him into management roles at various restaurants, both family and corporately owned businesses.

Then, in early 2006, everything started going to the dogs – and cats, in his case.

Several months prior to that, he’d begun developing a concept for his own restaurant. After he and his wife, Jodi, heard about a piece of property from three different friends – three days in a row – the two finally got in the car to check it out. They immediately saw potential.

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The property was on Canal Road in Orange Beach, and the Harsanys planned to open just one restaurant, which they would name after their rescue dog, Cosmo.

“We know that everyone loves their dogs,” said Brian. “Also, the name allowed us to have any cuisine we wanted. If we had given the restaurant an Italian, French or Greek name, everything wouldn’t have jelled.”

Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar opened in May 2006. The colorful and casual setting paired well with its large and eclectic menu, which could satisfy the palates of foodies to the pickiest of eaters.

It wasn’t long before Brian’s and Jodi’s business plans started growing along with their crew of four-legged family members. Luckily, the property around Cosmo’s afforded them plenty of space to expand.

By 2010, Cosmo’s retail selection had outgrown the space in the restaurant. That year, the Harsanys opened Maggie’s Bottle and ‘Tail, named after Maggie, another adopted dog. The gift and bottle shop is attached to Cosmo’s and sells T-shirts, jewelry, local artwork and merchandise for dog lovers. There’s also an extensive selection of wine and beer, which is available for sampling. They had a need for a venue where guests could hang out and have a drink prior to sitting down for a meal, so they added Maggie’s Parlor as neighboring tenants moved out.

In 2016 came Luna’s Eat & Drink, named after another dog, Luna, followed by Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets. The original legal name was “Three Angry Cats,” because the Harsanys thought their cats might be angry that no businesses were named after them. However, they decided to make their “doing business as” name Buzzcatz, since “it’s catchy, fun and marketable,” added Jodi.

Jodi serves on the board of a local organization dedicated to improving the lives of animals – Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program. She and Brian often host events at their businesses to support the group’s mission.

Jodi’s work with the animal program is just one of many community and environmental service groups in which the couple is involved.

Orange Beach City Councilman Jerry Johnson said, “No matter what it is, even if it’s the last minute – if we need catering or people to participate in cleaning an island, Brian and his team are always there. It’s really the culture they have created within their company.”

Brian agreed. “We do a lot of things with our employees in the community, so we can get them involved and they can get a good grasp on what it means to be part of a community,” he said.

They also focus on serving their employees, offering insurance, 401K plans and free exercise boot camps.

“We put ourselves in their shoes and offer them what we’d want to have,” Brian explained, adding that by taking care of their employees, they in turn take good care of their customers.

“It is vitally important that we always execute and give the experience that the guest is expecting when they step foot on our property,” Brian said.

Outside of the restaurants and businesses at the Canal Road campus, the Harsanys also own GTs on the Bay, a family-friendly restaurant and hangout on Wolf Bay, as well as Cobalt The Restaurant, which is nestled under the Perdido Bay Bridge.

“When we first opened Cosmo’s,” said Jodi, “I never imagined all of the opportunities we would have.”

Brian added, “It is our pleasure to be business owners here and to be so involved in our community.”

You can visit Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar, Maggie’s Bottle and ‘Tail, Luna’s Eat & Drink and Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets at 25753 Canal Road in Orange Beach; GTs on the Bay at 26189 Canal Road; and Cobalt the Restaurant at 28099 Perdido Beach Boulevard.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 hour ago

State Rep. Sorrell vows to cut government waste by seeking to remove requirement for legal notices to be published in newspapers

Earlier this week on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) explained his decision to vote against the Rebuild Alabama Act, which is legislation signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Kay Ivey that will ultimately raise gasoline taxes 10 cents by 2021.

In addition to polling that showed his constituents overwhelmingly against the measure to gas taxes, Sorrell justified his “no” vote by explaining that there were areas in state government with waste that could be eliminated to save taxpayers money that should have been considered before a tax increase.

One such area the Shoals Republican identified was a requirement that legal notices were to be published in newspapers.

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“You are never done looking for waste in state government,” Sorrell said. “Imagine if our state government only wasted 2 percent. It sounds like a very small number – hundreds of millions of dollars, right? There is still waste in state government. Actually, I have a bill to address that, and I’ve made that very same point. If we’re going to be talking about tax increases, we have to be talking about where we can save the taxpayers money.”

“Specifically, the bill I’m referencing is a bill that would remove the requirement for legal notices to be published in newspapers,” Sorrell added. “It’s a very expensive and time-consuming process  some of these legal notices are $1,000 — the publishing of the voter rolls every two years. The city of Huntsville spends $100,000 a year on required legal notices. That’s money they could be using to, you know, fix potholes or repave city streets.

Sorrell told APTV host Don Dailey he was still seeking a dollar figure on how much the state spends on legal notices.

“So, I don’t have a number. I’m looking for a number right now,” he added. “I have the legislative fiscal office trying to give me a number right now on how much the state of Alabama spends. This would also help municipalities and counties. But all that information, all those legal notices could be posted online almost for free. And we could be saving the state millions of dollars a year. So yeah, we’ve never done enough to cut waste in government. I’m going to continue looking for ways. I’ve only been down here a few weeks, and I believe I’ve already identified millions of dollars of waste.”

The Alabama Press Association, the trade association that represents the state’s newspapers, has long resisted any efforts to remove requirements to publish legal notices in newspapers over the years.

@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.

University of South Alabama researchers study progression of deadly lung syndrome

Researchers at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have developed a pre-clinical model for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a progressive disease that occurs in critically ill patients. A team led by Dr. Diego F. Alvarez and Dr. Jonathon P. Audia published the results of this NIH/NHLBI-sponsored study in the March 11 online edition of Pulmonary Circulation.

ARDS has a mortality rate of 40 to 60 percent in patients who develop the disorder, which is characterized by worsening lung function. Typically ARDS develops as a result of community- and hospital-acquired pneumonia and patients are treated in an intensive-care setting.

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“Right now there are no therapies to treat these patients once ARDS develops other than supportive care,” said Audia, associate professor of microbiology and immunology. “Our goal is developing comprehensive models to understand the disease progression and how it resolves, and then ultimately being able to use this model to test new therapies.”

Audia and Alvarez, who is an associate professor of physiology and cell biology, have been researching the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common cause of hospital-acquired pneumonia, and its impact on lung biology and pathogenesis for the past nine years, publishing numerous scientific articles on the subject.

The current study was the first to take a comprehensive look at the progression of ARDS in animal models examining effects on the lung vasculature, building upon the team’s previous work in cell cultures, Audia said.

The researchers examined two groups of rats infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa – one group after 48 hours and the other after seven days. The first group of mice displayed the clinical hallmarks of ARDS, while the second group displayed lingering effects of infection, inflammation and fibrosis seen in patients who succumb to ARDS, but signs of lung repair also were observed.

The modeling sets the stage for future research. “We don’t know whether the host response is not strong enough to kill the bacteria or if there’s something defective with the repair pathway and the patients never fully recover,” Audia said. “It’s one of those things that’s a black box. Nobody knows which part goes awry.”

He said further research could help doctors predict how patients will fare in response to an initial pneumonia infection, and ultimately lead to the development of new interventions and therapies to combat pneumonia and ARDS.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Google brings Wi-Fi-equipped school buses to Alabama town

Google is not only building a $600 million data center in Alabama, but the internet giant is helping some school kids in a small Talladega County town get their homework done.

Google announced the launch of its Rolling Study Halls program in Munford, a community with around 1,200 residents. The initiative brings Wi-Fi to students with long commutes in 16 communities across the country.

Google provides each school district with Wi-Fi through fully functional school buses, computers and onboard educators for the buses. The company says the program helps students reclaim more than 1.5 million hours of learning time that would otherwise be lost during long bus commutes.

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“It’s important for students everywhere to have access to the tools they need to learn every day,” said Alex Sanchez, a spokesperson for Google.

In Munford, six buses will become Rolling Study Halls, allowing 240 students to access Wi-Fi on commutes between 45 minutes and one hour.

Equipping students

“Innovative programs like the Google Wi-Fi school buses are allowing us to provide our public school students with the 21st-century educations that they will need to compete in the global economy,” Ainsworth said.

“Google’s Rolling Study Halls is something we know will benefit the students of Munford, and help them create the next big thing right here in Alabama,” McClendon said.

Rolling Study Halls is part of Grow with Google, a new initiative to help create economic opportunities for Americans. The program aims to give people across the United States resources to grow their skills, careers and businesses by offering free tools, training and events.

In April 2018, Google began construction of its Alabama data center in the Jackson County community of Bridgeport, in the northeastern corner of the state. Google said the data center will be a hub for internet traffic, fitting into a network that keeps the company’s search engine and its other internet-based products functioning around the clock.

The center is expected to create between 75 and 100 jobs.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and state Sen. Jim McClendon joined Google officials to announce the program’s arrival at Munford Middle School alongside students and administrators who use the outfitted buses daily during the 2018–2019 school year.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

Leaders deliver results for a stronger Alabama

Thank you to the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for your bi-partisan support of the Rebuild Alabama Plan. Because of your leadership, this historical effort will result in safer roads, thousands of new jobs, and a stronger Alabama.  Finally, it’s time to #RebuildAL.

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