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4 days ago

To ALDOT, from Helena: Send help — Shelby County suburb plagued by chronically clogged two-lane roads

HELENA – When it comes to the explosive growth that has been underway in North Shelby County since the late 1980s, the City of Helena is often overlooked.

Yet, it has been a significant component of that growth.

It is the kind of growth Alabama’s leaders are encouraging in other parts of the state – people relocating from other states and taking jobs in the area to raise their families. In theory, that builds upon the existing tax base, and that along with the increased economic activity improves the quality of life for everyone statewide.

It is also the kind of growth that as is the case in many places, the government has been woefully ill-equipped to adequately meet the transportation needs required as a result of it.

Helena along with Pelham and Alabaster to the east and southeast have been part of the second phase of the Birmingham metropolitan area’s southern suburban expansion. (The first phase having been Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook and Hoover in the 1970s and 1980s.)

However, unlike Pelham and Alabaster, Helena has felt the brunt of the area’s growing pains given its lack of proximity to a major thoroughfare. (Pelham and Alabaster are served by Interstate 65 and U.S. Highway 31.)

For most of the last three decades, there has been a lot of talk from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) to do something about it. Unfortunately, that talk has not been followed by any significant action.

Currently, the estimated nearly 20,000 residents in Helena are served by a series of two-lane Shelby County roads to the northwest, east and southeast and by Alabama Highway 261 to its northeast. Highway 261 offers Helena the most direct route to I-65, Hoover and Birmingham.

(ALDOT)

Given that it is the most direct route, it is also the most heavily traveled and therefore, the most backed up. It has gotten incrementally worse since the 1990s. That has not been just a disruption for Helena residents, but for those in adjacent Pelham and Hoover as well.

It’s not unheard of for the eight-mile trip from Helena to the Valleydale Road-Interstate 65 interchange, or vice-versa, to take 45 minutes should that trip take place during rush hour, or when school traffic is underway.

Still, ALDOT has punted time after time after time on improving Highway 261.

“You get to an election year, and the big projects get green-flagged, and the smaller projects – ‘Eh, you know – I’m going to hold you up a little while,’ because you know, politics,” Helena Mayor Mark Hall told Yellowhammer News in an interview earlier this week.

According to Hall, the city’s hands are tied on attempting to go at it on its own given the county and state’s ownership of the roads. However, given those roads are maintained by the state and county, it does allow for federal funds to be used on improvements.

“The big difficulty here in Helena is both the main roads that come through here are state road and county roads,” he explained. “We don’t have jurisdiction over them. We don’t have the funds to spend $30 million. Not on a good day could we come up with $30 million to four-lane a road. We got a $12 million-a-year budget. So, $30 million is out of the question for us. The good thing is they are Shelby County and ALDOT-owned, which can get those federal funds – which we cannot. Getting them to actually break ground and do something is like pulling teeth from a 90-year-old man. He doesn’t have any.”

All hope is not lost, according to Hall. The long-stalled effort to widen Alabama 261 is showing some signs of life now. Hall said recently ALDOT has moved that project into its top-10 list of highway priorities.

“We got it back at the top of the list,” he added. “I feel like that is progress just to get it there. To get the funding mechanism ironed out is the next big deal. That’s what we’re working on now. We’re supposed to meet with [ALDOT] in the coming months again, you know get everybody back together and get this [memorandum of understanding] ironed out where we can at least have the funding mechanism agreed to, whether or not the money is there or not.”

The Helena mayor also said he was also pushing for a meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, but admitted it would be difficult given she was in the middle of a gubernatorial campaign.

Given the project also has the cities of nearby Pelham and Hoover promoting it, Hall added he was optimistic about the prospects of it becoming a reality.

“I’m working as hard as I can with our council to push this 261 project to the front,” he said. “We got an MOU in the works with the cities of Hoover, Pelham and the Shelby County highway department, along with ALDOT to kick-start this 261 project. And I’m very hopeful this time that we can all sit down at a table and sign an agreement to get it kick-started and going. And I’m very pleased with [ALDOT Director John] Cooper for putting it back on top of the project list because he very well could have told me, ‘Sorry, buddy.’”

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

35 mins ago

WATCH: University of Alabama Police Department completes lip sync battle featuring ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

Monday, The University of Alabama posted a video of their campus police department participating in a lip sync battle against Clemson University.

UAPD chose “Sweet Home Alabama” as their song and, afterward, challenged all other SEC schools to join in on the competition.

Watch the full video here.

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

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42 mins ago

Rep. Byrne: Illegal immigrants will not be housed in Baldwin County

Tuesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) announced that illegal immigrants would not be housed at Navy airfields in Baldwin County.

Congressman Byrne opposed the housing of 10,000 illegal immigrants at Naval Outlying Field Silverhill and Naval Outlying Field Wolf in south Baldwin County.

Byrne, along with other members of the Alabama and Florida Congressional delegation, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security Nielson expressing their concerns with the proposal.

Byrne released both a statement and a tweet on Tuesday regarding the decision of the proposal.

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“Housing illegal immigrants at ill-equipped airfields along the Gulf Coast was always a terrible idea, so I appreciate the confirmation that this plan is no longer being considered. We had a team effort to push back this flawed idea, and I especially want to thank Baldwin County Commissioners Chris Elliott and Tucker Dorsey and Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack for their advocacy on this issue,” said Byrne in a news release.

He added, “While I am glad this issue is resolved, we must continue working to secure the border and eliminate the need for additional housing for illegal immigrants altogether. I remain 100% committed to working with President Trump to build a border wall, hire additional border patrol officers, and ensure our border security is as strong as possible.”

Click here to read the full letter ICE Deputy Director Ronald Vitiello sent to Rep. Byrne regarding the decision.

@RealKyleMorris is a Yellowhammer News contributor and also contributes weekly to The Daily Caller

1 hour ago

Liberal heckler hurls object, expletives at Doug Jones — Jones says ‘there’s just as many people passionate on the other side’

After a liberal heckler hurled an object and expletives at Sen. Doug Jones at a town hall Monday, Alabama’s junior senator compared the incident, which ended with police officers hauling the agitator out, to peaceful conservative efforts to persuade Jones to vote to confirm President Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

AL.com’s Howard Koplowitz reported that Jones indicated at the town hall that “conservatives in the state are trying to apply the same pressure on him as the woman at the Birmingham event,” referring to the protester.

Jones said, “There’s just as many people passionate on the other side, so that doesn’t make it real easy.”

While the pressure on Jones from the left has stooped to this kind of antic, conservative efforts have all been peaceful and respectful to this point. They are backed by the fact that a majority of Alabamians polled support Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

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The Judicial Crisis Network’s massive ad buy has been flooding Alabama’s airwaves since July 9, and the NRA started their own ambitious television campaign last week.

Concerned Women for America, a Christian women’s organization, is also focusing grassroots efforts on the state.

Sen. Richard Shelby voiced his strong support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation after meeting with him recently, but Jones remains undecided.

“Senator Doug Jones’ inability to make a decision on casting an Alabama vote for Judge Kavanaugh is disconcerting,” Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan told Yellowhammer News.

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

1 hour ago

Arab High School to dump ‘Dixie’ tradition at football games

A rural Alabama high school is ending its tradition of playing “Dixie” at football games.

John Mullins, superintendent of city schools in Arab, said he made the decision to quit playing the song at Arab (AY-rab) High School, but not because of any “external pressure.”

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Leaders in the educational system and the school board have talked for months about dropping the song, he said, and local news outlets reported in June that the longtime band director was retiring.

“While I fully understand the difficulty of changing a tradition, the song has negative connotations that contradict our school district’s core values of unity, integrity, and relationships,” Mullins said in a statement reported by WHNT-TV.

School bands throughout the South used to play “Dixie,” but the practice ended as the region got further away from legalized racial segregation.

The Arab High School Band has played “Dixie” after touchdowns for decades.

Students and staff at the school will vote on a new fight song after this football season.

In the meantime, the band will play an instrumental soul song that’s popular among marching bands, “The Horse.”

Census statistics show the town of about 8,200 people, located in northeastern Alabama, is more than 96 percent white.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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Rep. Byrne: ‘Great value’ found in traveling around district, speaking with local leaders

Each August, the House of Representatives typically enters a period of recess known as the August District Work Period. This is time set aside for Members of Congress to travel across their home districts visiting with the people they represent.

For me, this is incredibly valuable time that I can spend listening to my constituents and gaining a better understanding of the issues impacting our area. Here is just a quick highlight of my August District Work Period so far.

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As you probably already know, I love to hold town hall meetings throughout the First District to hear directly from the people I represent. This August, I am holding a “Better Off Now” Town Hall Tour with twelve stops in all six counties that make up the First District. So far, we have held town hall meetings in Salipta, Atmore, Brewton, Dauphin Island, Millry, Citronelle and Mobile. Later this month, we will make stops in Grand Bay, Monroeville, Seminole, Loxley and Spanish Fort. You can get all the details about the town halls online at Byrne.House.Gov/BetterOffTour.

Visiting local businesses and talking with employees is another priority for me in August. For example, I have already visited Olin in McIntosh, the Louisiana Pacific facility in Clarke County, Serda Brewing in Mobile, and Metal Shark Boats and Master Marine in Bayou La Batre, just to name a few. The visits help me learn firsthand how federal issues are directly impacting employers and employees in Southwest Alabama.

A really special opportunity was being able to ride along with UPS to help deliver packages on the Eastern Shore. I dressed up in the full UPS uniform, rode in the truck, and personally delivered packages. It really helped to step in the driver’s shoes and see the difficult work they do every day. I am especially grateful to Chris Dorgan for showing me the ropes.

Just last week, I hosted Chris Oliver, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, down on Dauphin Island for a Red Snapper research trip. As one of the leading federal officials responsible for our fisheries, I welcomed the opportunity to show off the health of the Red Snapper stock in the Gulf, as well as the very impressive research being done locally by the University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Also last week, I traveled to the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi to meet with the director and get an update on services for our veterans. As you may know, the Biloxi VA oversees most of our local VA facilities. It was a productive visit as I work to hold the VA accountable and ensure our veterans receive the care they deserve.

We had the annual Women’s Forum in downtown Mobile, which is organized by the Community Foundation of South Alabama. We had another outstanding crowd as local women had the opportunity to network and hear from speakers and panelists about issues important to them.

I find great value in holding roundtable discussions to hear directly from leaders about specific issues. With this in mind, we held separate roundtables with local school superintendents, economic developers from our area, and community leaders from Chatom. Each of these roundtables were very informative, and we have more scheduled later this month.

As you can probably tell, this August District Work Period has already been a huge success. The good news is that we are just getting started. I look forward to spending more time around Southwest Alabama throughout August to help me be the best Congressman possible.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.