While talking about needed infrastructure projects in Alabama Thursday on FM Talk 1065's "The Jeff Poor Show," Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth alleged Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) director John Cooper had threatened lawmakers who were pushing for improvements to Interstate 65, Alabama's main north-south artery.

"John Cooper, at DOT, is once again playing politics, right?" Ainsworth said. "He's going out, and I'm hearing rumors that he's threatening people and saying, 'Oh, you don't need to support 65, you don't need to do this.' You know, that's just not OK, right? And he's got a pattern of doing this, and it's got to stop... It's not OK for him to sit there and say if you support 65, you're not going to get any infrastructure projects in your district. That's ridiculous, right?"

"We need to do what's right for the state and take politics out of it," he added.

Ainsworth did not reveal who told him about the threats because they spoke to him on the condition of anonymity, but he said he was confident the claims were true.

The need for widening Interstate 65 has been a prominent subject over the past several months. Former President Donald Trump promised the Alabama GOP that if he becomes president again, he will make widening I-65 a priority. Several Alabama lawmakers, such as State Sens. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), have said I-65 plans should be considered sooner rather than later.

Deeper discussions began after the state announced plans to go forward with aproject in west Alabama with a price tag in the neighborhood of $1 billion. The project would connect U.S. Highway 43 in Thomasville to Alabama State Highway 69 near Moundville.

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Ainsworth said he thought the West Alabama project had merit but added that it should be financed with federal matching funding.

Elliott said he did not want the West Alabama project to mean the state would be unable to address other projects across the state.

ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris refused to comment on the latest allegations from Ainsworth, saying he would defer to Ivey's office on the issue.

Ivey's communications director Gina Maiola responded to Ainsworth's' accusation by saying, "Governor Ivey is the ultimate decision maker on road and bridge projects. And she's delivering!"

However, Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool pointed out in an order concerning a lawsuit against ALDOT earlier this year that Cooper was the one who made decisions on at least one project in south Alabama, so it is unclear who is actually "the ultimate decision maker on road and bridge projects."

"Alarmingly, Director Cooper testified that he has never spoken with Governor Ivey about his new bridge project," Pool stated in the order. "He then backtracked, claiming that he mentioned his new bridge project to her once in 2017 when she first took office. He has not spoken a single word to the Governor about the Cooper Bridge in six years. When asked 'How many more millions of dollars of taxpayers' money do you think you're going to spend on this project without talking to Governor Ivey?' Director Cooper responded: 'I don't know."

Ivey announced last week that the widening of I-65 from Alabaster to Calera would happen. The initiative is one of three new Rebuild Alabama Act projects.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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