Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alabama gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Casting a ballot for a candidate is one of the more powerful ways we can express our views on particular issues, including transportation. A little more than two weeks out from Election Day and Alabama voters have a pretty good idea about what their candidates for governor want to do to address the issue.

Republican candidate Robert Bentley and Democratic nominee Ron Sparks have quite a bit to say about issues such as the state Department of Transportation, borrowing and new capacity.

Sparks’ election website touts roads and bridges as the driving forces of the state’s economy. He says the state is falling further behind when it comes to keeping up with demands.

“We have miles of highway in this state in such disrepair that vehicles risk damage by traveling on them. ... Without a renewed commitment to our highway infrastructure, we are courting disaster.”

Bentley also addresses the issue on his website. His plan calls for creating “a bipartisan panel of experts to recommend the best ways to modernize the Alabama Department of Transportation.” They would work independently to “evaluate the performance of the major modes of transportation within Alabama.”

The candidates’ commitments to transportation are laudable. However, it will be worth keeping a close eye on the methods chosen by the next governor to get the work done. Hopefully they will make sure revenue already coming into the state is being used for its intended purpose. That is their best chance for keeping Alabama voters who elected them on their side – and winning over others.

An issue on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot that Bentley and Sparks have both endorsed is Amendment 3. If approved, the Alabama Constitution would be amended to allow $100 million a year during the next decade to be rerouted from a state savings account for roads and bridges.

However, Sparks said it doesn’t go far enough. In addition to the $1 billion that would be raised over the next 10 years, he wants to borrow another $400 million for highway construction and repair.

Among the projects that would get attention are new four-lane roads running north to south through eastern and western Alabama.

“My proposal will be funded through the issue of GARVEE bonds, a bonding program that uses future federal infrastructure grant funds to finance the debt service on the bonds.” He further describes it as “a proven means of front loading infrastructure investments.”

Bentley’s pursuit of modernizing ALDOT includes evaluating options for the new north-south roadways.

Even though additional capacity sounds like a fantastic plan, there is a lot to be leery about as to how Bentley would pursue funding the work. A report in The Birmingham News leaves no doubt about what he is willing to do to get new road work done:

“If the federal government won’t help pay for them, Bentley said he would consider making them toll roads.”

Bentley has already said he favors building an elevated toll road over U.S. 280 to relieve congestion in Birmingham.