6 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.

1 hour ago

Shelby secures deal that would give Trump $4.59 billion more to combat border crisis

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Wednesday got legislation overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations that would provide $4.59 billion in emergency supplemental funding to address the crisis at the United States’ border with Mexico.

The compromise legislation was negotiated by Shelby, the powerful chairman of the committee, and committee vice chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The committee voted to advance the legislation by a remarkable vote of 30-1.

Before the committee voted, Shelby delivered remarks strongly supporting increased border security.

“The situation is past the breaking point. We must act,” he urged his colleagues.

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Shelby’s full remarks as follows:

The Committee will come to order. Today the Committee considers legislation to address the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis along our southern border.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 675,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended or encountered at ports of entry so far this fiscal year.

Making this crisis even more acute, we are seeing a dramatic spike in the number of children and families making the dangerous journey north to the U.S.

Our personnel on the ground are doing everything they can to secure the border and care for these vulnerable populations.

But their determination has outstripped their resources.

Last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security stated the following:

“The volume and composition of populations arriving at the southern border are simply unsustainable. Unless Congress acts, the situation will continue to deteriorate – with grave consequences.”

The situation is past the breaking point. We must act.

I say to my colleagues, today the Appropriations Committee will act.

I am pleased that we will do so in a bipartisan manner, and I want to thank Vice Chairman Leahy for working with me to find common ground.

The legislation we bring before the Committee today contains a total of $4.59 billion to address the border crisis.

Of this amount, $2.9 billion is provided for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied children and placing them in suitable homes.

The legislation also includes $1.3 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to provide basic necessities – food, shelter and medical care – to adult migrants they detain.

An additional $145 million is provided for the Department of Defense, which has mobilized to help respond to the crisis.

And finally, $220 million is included for the Department of Justice, to help process immigration cases and detain dangerous individuals.

This package does not include everything I wanted.

It does not include everything Vice Chairman Leahy wanted.

But most importantly, it does not include poison pills from either party.

I ask for my colleagues’ cooperation in holding any such amendments until this package reaches the Senate floor – just like we did during the FY19 process with such great success.

In addition, I ask my colleagues to refrain from offering any amendments that pertain to broader immigration policy.

The appropriate venue for such amendments is the authorizing committee, and Chairman Graham is marking up immigration legislation in the Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

So I urge my colleagues interested in broader immigration policy to discuss their ideas with Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Feinstein.

By adhering to this framework I believe that we will be able to move forward together with a strong bipartisan vote here today.

Our border security professionals and the children and families in their care cannot afford further delay, and I am hopeful that a strong bipartisan vote will provide the momentum needed to assist our folks on the front lines.

Before I turn to Vice Chairman Leahy to offer his remarks and make a motion, I want expand briefly on the importance of moving forward together – not just on this package, but on fiscal year ’20 appropriations bills.

Coming to an agreement on topline numbers is very important, and I am working with Leader McConnell, Secretary Mnuchin, Speaker Pelosi and Vice Chairman Leahy on that front.

But we also need to have agreement on keeping poison pills out of our process in fiscal year ’20.

That was the foundation of our success in fiscal year ’19.

And that is what is allowing us to move forward together here today.

I believe that my colleagues agree it should also be the basis for our work ahead.

If we show that critical mass is still behind this simple and proven framework, we can move bills quickly once we have topline numbers.

But if we start chipping away at it, I fear we will return to the old frustrations and failures of previous years.

Something none of us wants. I know I don’t.

And with that, I turn to my good friend and Vice Chairman, Senator Leahy, to offer his opening remarks and make a motion.

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

2 hours ago

7 Things: Trump campaign has cash, Moore to enter Senate race, reparations circus goes on and more …

7. Montgomery parents could start paying for their kids’ crimes

  • Montgomery City Councilman Glen Pruitt has introduced a city ordinance that would require parents be punished when their children commit a crime, which is basically a copy of an ordinance that was introduced in South Fulton, Georgia, last year.
  • Legal transgressions committed by kids that could get their parents in trouble include drug and alcohol possession or use, failure to keep curfews, possession or use of firearms, truancy, improper supervision, theft and property damage.

6. The Hyde Amendment is here to stay — for now

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  • There has recently been a great deal of vocal opposition to the Hyde Amendment from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, but the Democrat-controlled House just reauthorized the Hyde Amendment.
  • This has been a big part of the Democrat presidential debate, but a vote on a spending bill that included the Hyde Amendment reauthorization passed 226-203. No Republicans voted for it and only six Democrats voted against it, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), noted historian and de facto leader of the Democratic Party.

5. A Syrian refugee was plotting an attack on a church in Pittsburgh

  • Mustafa Mousab Alowemer was admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2016, but now he is accused of planning an attack on the Legacy International Worship Center in Pittsburgh. The Department of Justice claims this was planned “to support the cause of ISIS and to inspire other ISIS supporters in the United States.” 
  • To bolster their government’s take on this, the DOJ released a statement that laid out Alowemer’s alleged crimes. It read, “Alowemer also distributed propaganda materials, offered to provide potential targets in the Pittsburgh area, requested a weapon with a silencer, and recorded a video of himself pledging an oath of allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

4. There will be no reparations

  • In the past, Democrats like President Barack Obama have opposed the proposition of paying slavery reparations. The Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties committee held a hearing to address the bill that would create a commission that would develop an answer to whether African-American citizens should be paid slavery reparations.
  • However, during the hearing, tensions were high and Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) was booed as he commented on the bill, “Putting aside the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago, the fair distribution of reparations would be nearly impossible when one considers the complexity of the American struggle to abolish slavery.”

3. Latest Roy Moore embarrassment kicks off today

  • Today, former Chief Justice Roy Moore will be announcing if he’s running for the Senate seat he lost to Doug Jones in 2017. But if he’s been waiting to announce without any real reason then he’s more than likely running, you do not hold this kind of an event to announce that you are not running for office.
  • Moore’s announcement will be held at 2:00 p.m. at The Ballroom in Montgomery and will likely kick off a campaign that is the dream of the media and their Democrats. Moore lost to Senator Doug Jones in 2017 and will definitely be the candidate Jones will favor in the Republican primary. 

2. Shelby wants less of Moore

  • With Roy Moore expected to announce his decision about whether he’ll be entering the 2020 U.S. Senate race on Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is once again pointing out that Moore is a terrible candidate, a position that President Donald Trump agrees with. He has advised Moore to not run.
  • Shelby said that Alabama could do better than Moore, as well as noting that if Moore as the nominee would make it harder for Republicans to win back that Senate seat, and then went on to mention that if former Attorney General Jeff Sessions were to enter the race he would “probably clear the field” and win the Republican primary and general election easily.

1. Money Trumps all?

  • President Trump officially announced his reelection bid in Florida on Tuesday, and less than 24 hours later his campaign announced that they’ve already raised $24.8 million, which is far more than all of the Democratic candidates combined in the first 24 hours of their election bids.
  • It was just this week that 2020 presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden announced that his campaign has raised about $20 million. Of course, despite his substantial fundraising, Trump is still polling lower than Biden by 10 points. However, it is way too early for that to matter.

2 hours ago

Mooney praises Trump for use of tariff threat on Mexico; Says immigration remains ‘a major issue’ for Alabamians

If the early stages of the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat up in 2020 is any indicator, immigration remains a front-burner issue for Alabamians.

That is how State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs), a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, views the subject as well.

In an interview that aired Wednesday on Huntsville’s WVNN, the Shelby County Republican weighed in on the topic and offered President Donald Trump praise for his use of tariffs to force Mexico to pledge to be more proactive in stymying the flow of migrants through the U.S.-Mexico border.

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“I think quite frankly, it got the results that were needed,” Mooney said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “We got people to the table. We got people there to cooperate, begin to solve the problem. You have got to use every tool that is in the toolbox. I’m a free trade person. I believe in that, but I also understand clearly that when you have a president who delivers on his threats in the manner Donald Trump has when he has challenged people to get them to the point of doing something and working on something, he’s been successful with that. They know he may do what he’s talking about. So, they tend to come and begin to negotiate. And then we get a resolution as such that is beneficial to us and beneficial to them.”

Mooney said among voters he has talked with on the campaign trail, the U.S. immigration system is one of their primary concerns.

“I hear consistently and constantly from voters in Alabama about immigration and how important it is and how much concern they have about it,” he added. “It is a major issue in this election, and it is a major issue for our nation, and it has got to be worked on and solved.”

@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

DeKalb Co. deputies bust another illegal alien human smuggling operation

The DeKalb County criminal interdiction team on Wednesday busted yet another alleged human smuggling operation involving illegal aliens.

A press release from the sheriff’s office explained that the team was working the major highways and interstates within the county when interdiction deputies at approximately 10:30 a.m. conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle near the 218 mile marker of I-59.

After searching the vehicle, 10 illegal aliens were discovered.

An initial investigation determined a human smuggling operation was ongoing. The individuals were from El Salvador, Ecuador and Guatemala, according to the sheriff’s office.

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The Department of Homeland Security was then called to the scene and the suspects were taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

“This is another great job by our Interdiction Team. Even though we are far from the Southern Border, we can still play a role in enforcing our nation’s laws right here in DeKalb County,” Sheriff Nick Welden said.

“While it may seem that they were trying to start a new life in our country, these people are exploited and taken advantage of. Some have to pay thousands of dollars to be smuggled in and are made to work for inhumane wages,” he added.

The investigation is still ongoing and federal charges are pending.

Welden concluded, “Again, I’d like to thank our interdiction team for another job well done. God Bless!”

Nine illegal aliens were arrested after a similar traffic stop in DeKalb County just weeks ago.

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

3 hours ago

Former Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum rules out Alabama 2020 U.S. Senate bid

Miss America 1995 Heather Whitestone McCallum will not be a candidate in Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate race.

She told Yellowhammer News on Wednesday evening that she has finalized her decision and will not run, saying the timing was not right for her.

A Republican, she had been considering running for several months, even conducting polling in the spring to help make an informed decision.

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“Alabama has given so much to me. It would definitely be an honor to give back to the people of my state,” Whitestone said in a statement to Yellowhammer News earlier this year. “That being said, it is something my husband John and I are praying about.”

Whitestone, a Dothan native, is also a former Miss Alabama. She made history as the first deaf Miss America, having fully lost her hearing when she was 18-months old. Whitestone underwent a cochlear implant surgery to partially restore her hearing in 2002.

She has authored multiple faith-centric books, including “Listening With My Heart,” “Believing The Promise,” “Let God Surprise You” and “Heavenly Crowns.” She is a graduate of Berry High School (now Hoover High School) and Jacksonville State University.

Whitestone, 46, has lived in Georgia for over two decades, having moved there after marrying her husband, John McCallum. She and John met when they were both serving as aides to then-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA). John ran unsuccessfully for Congress himself in 2014. She and her husband have three children.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) are the credible candidates who have formally announced Republican candidacies to unseat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) thus far.

Unsuccessful 2017 Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore will announce Thursday at 2:00 p.m. in Montgomery whether he will join that field.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is expected to make an announcement on his potential Senate bid next week after filing his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.

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