Alabama drivers deserve unified effort on road plan

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alabama’s bridges and roads need work. No one’s arguing that fact.

A 2011 report by Transportation for America showed 10 percent of the state’s bridges are deteriorating and another 9.9 percent are “structurally deficient.”

A 2010 report by the Road Information Program said Alabama needed more than $4 billion over a five-year period to complete planned new highway projects, let alone maintain its current roads.

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How does a state whose budget problems are the stuff of horror movie nightmares even contemplate addressing those needs?

The state Senate thinks it has an answer. So does Gov. Robert Bentley. They’re just different answers.

The Senate, 27-0, passed and sent to the House legislation by Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, authorizing the sale of up to $650 million in bonds over the next year, funded by Alabama’s 13 cents a gallon tax on diesel fuel.

That tax raises $87 million a year and by statute is earmarked to pay bonds; estimated annual cost of this issue would be $47 million.

Bentley has set up the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, and wants to sell about $300 million in bonds in each of the next two years through the Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles program. GARVEE bonds are funded by future federal highway money.

Both proposals are aimed at the same result — one of the biggest road improvement efforts in Alabama history. They have some minor differences, such as the amount of matching money cities and counties would have to put toward projects.

The major issue, however, is control. Bussman’s bill would establish a five-member committee to handle distribution of the money, with the members picked by the lieutenant governor, the state transportation director, the agriculture commissioner and the Senate and House leaders.

Bentley’s proposal would create an advisory board, but he’d make the final call on funding. He’s promised to veto Bussman’s bill if the Legislature passes it. …

We think if both sides really are serious about reaching the same destination, they can come up with a plan that will draw unified support — and Alabama’s drivers will say “thank you.”

The Gasden Times