Governor Kay Ivey has one ally in her bid to finish a four-lane route between Tuscaloosa and Mobile.
During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," Ivey's predecessor, former Gov. Robert Bentley, said he supported Ivey on finishing a four-lane route between Thomasville, where the four-lane portion of U.S. Highway 43 terminates, and Moundville, where a four-laned portion of Alabama Highway 69 begins before it heads north into Tuscaloosa.
Bentley acknowledged the need for improvements to both Interstate 65, a project often touted by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, and the so-called West Alabama Corridor. However, he said both are not possible simultaneously.
"Right now, there is a political argument over whether or not we need to expand and put a six-lane highway on I-65 or whether or not we ought to build highways in West Alabama," he said. "Well, we need them both places. But can we afford them in both places? No, we can't. We don't have that much money. Now, this new gas tax that Governor Ivey pressured everyone to sign and get started with, it has brought in some money. In fact, this last year, in 2022, it brought in $344 million. Sixty-seven percent of that went to the highways, state highways. Then about 25% went to the counties. And then there was a little bit that went somewhere else."
"That has helped a little bit, even though we are raising taxes," Bentley added.
According to Bentley, the needs of rural western Alabama ought to be considered when evaluating each project.
"The thing that right now is the argument over I-65 — well, I-65 is 366 miles long from the top of the state down to the bottom of the state," he explained. "And about 300 of those miles are just four-lane. And I know people are inconvenienced when they are going to the beach and get upset when they have to slow down and all that. But you know, asking do you put the money there or do you put it in West Alabama, which really needs industries. Rural areas over there need helping. You've got to consider all areas of the state. You just can't consider the I-65 corridor. Right now, I'm also in favor of doing what Governor Ivey was talking about doing, and I don't know how long it will take them to do that, but that's building a four-lane highway up from Mobile to Tuscaloosa, and then hopefully one of these days to the tri-cities. We just really don't have many four-lane highways on the western part of the state."
Bentley also acknowledged Ainsworth's vocal support of six-laning I-65, which got publicity when former President Donald Trump mentioned it during a speech at the Alabama Republican Party summer dinner earlier this month.
He urged Ainsworth to show deference to Ivey on the matter and was skeptical of Trump's pledge on I-65.
"Now, as far as the six-laning of I-65 — I heard the other day Will Ainsworth was getting into an argument, not an argument — but he was complaining because Governor Ivey was favoring West Alabama," Bentley outlined. "Well, he may be running for governor. I guess he is, but you know, it is a little bit early for that. I think he really ought to let the Governor handle the situation right now while she's in office, and then if he gets elected, he can do what he wants to do."
"What I was going to say about I-65: I also heard that Trump came down and said that he was going to six-lane that highway all the way down and this kind of stuff," he added. "Well, to do that, 300 miles, it takes $10 million a mile to put a six-lane in. If you have a four-lane going to a six-lane, it's an extra $10 million a mile. That's 300 miles. That's $3 billion to put a six-lane on I-65 from the top to the bottom. And the president can't do that anyway, even though he promises it. That goes through Congress. But what I was going to say is the infrastructure bill that's been passed has allocated to Alabama $5.2 billion over the next five years. Six-laning I-65 would take up $3 billion of that $5.2 billion, and honestly, you wouldn't have any more money to do anything else, primarily over the rest of the state because it costs so much money. You're putting all of your money into one project, and I just don't think that's feasible. I really don't. I'm for six-laning it just like everyone else, but you just can't do it all at one time because we just don't have the money to do it with."
Jeff Poor is the editor in chief of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email jeff.poor@1819News.com or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.
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