Highway reauthorization provides needed funding
Published 1:38 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2005
By By Jo Bonner
As a part of the legislative update I provided in this column just a few weeks ago, I mentioned the recent passage of the six-year highway reauthorization bill. The Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users (known as TEA-LU) returns $286.4 billion to taxpayers in funding for highway, bridge, and surface transportation projects across the United States.
Just as importantly, TEA-LU is also a jobs bill. Every project which is funded by this bill, as well as the projects funded through the money sent to the transportation departments in each state, will result in the creation of thousands of jobs.
During the negotiations on funding provided to each of the fifty states through this measure, it was determined that the state of Alabama will receive in excess of $700 million each year from the federal government to address specific areas of concern to our transportation infrastructure. Along with that, several individual projects which my colleagues and I requested were included by the conferees responsible for drafting the final version of this legislation.
Two projects in particular are significant for south Alabama. Highway 83, a north-south corridor located in Baldwin County, will receive a total of $26 million in funding to extend the road to Interstate 10. Additionally, Highway 84, a major east-west corridor running through the northern part of my district, is slated to receive a total of $8.8 million for four-laning of that thoroughfare.
I would be remiss at this point if I didn't pause to offer my sincere thanks to Senator Jeff Sessions for his tremendous efforts in helping to secure this funding. As a result of the work he and his staff put forth during negotiations on the reauthorization measure, the Highway 83 project was awarded $18 million by the Senate in addition to the $8 million I was able to include on the House side. With regard to Highway 84, Senator Sessions successfully secured $4 million in addition to the $4.8 million included by the House.
As a native and life-long resident of south Alabama, the senator is keenly aware of the importance of both of these highways, and I am very appreciative of his efforts in ensuring that strong consideration was given by the Senate to both projects.
Now that Congress has designated this funding for our area - and the president has signed TEA-LU into law - some may wonder just how important this funding is to the First District. For both Highway 83 and Highway 84, the impact of this money can best be summarized with two ideas: safety and economic development.
Highway 83 over the years has become a vital part of the transportation infrastructure in Baldwin County, and the extension of this road - known locally as the Foley Beach Express - north to Interstate 10 will provide further important benefits. First, as we have seen in recent years with the dramatic increase in the number of tourists and full-time residents in the southern portion of the county, the necessity for an adequate hurricane evacuation route has become even more vital.
Most recently, Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis have shown the problems caused when thousands of vehicles are trying to evacuate on the same route. By extending and expanding Highway 83, Baldwin County is provided with an additional evacuation route for those who rely almost exclusively on Highway 59.
Baldwin County is already one of the fastest growing counties in all of Alabama, if not the southeastern United States, and there is little question that further strong growth is on the horizon. Additionally, as a result of the rapid growth we are seeing in Baldwin County, the expansion of Highway 83 will provide access to areas which could potentially be used for the development of new business and industry which may be attracted to the area.
Economic growth was also an important consideration when Senator Sessions and I requested the funding for Highway 84. The areas in south-central Alabama which this highway crosses, particularly the region running west from Interstate 65 through Monroe and Clarke Counties towards the Mississippi state line, are in a region that has not experienced the same development as other areas of the state.
It is believed that the four-laning and expanding of this highway will provide accessibility to areas which would benefit tremendously from new economic investment. Combined with the efforts already underway by Governor Riley and the members of his "Black Belt Initiative," we could potentially see improved development in this region in a few years.
Safety was also a consideration when working for the Highway 84 funding. It is vital that an adequate highway be in place to protect not only the thousands of commercial truck and vehicle drivers who utilize the road every day, but also the individuals and families who depend on a safe highway for their use.
Now that the funding is in place, the real work begins. Officials in Baldwin County are looking forward to starting construction as soon as possible on completing Highway 83.
This past week, Governor Riley publicly committed during a press conference in Monroeville to immediately start planning the four-laning of Highway 84 from the interstate to Monroeville. I certainly feel the governor deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his leadership, particularly in the effort he has put forth to bring further economic development to our region of the state. Throughout his term in office, Governor Riley has kept the best interests of all Alabamians at the heart of his policy initiatives, and his commitment to the work on Highway 84 is further evidence of this commitment.
During the next several years, I - and many, many others - look forward to seeing fruits of the labor of so many men and women on the local, state, and federal level.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Feel free to call on us whenever we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.