State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) recently said he's concerned about whether the West Alabama Corridor is currently eligible for federal funding due to the type of permitting used on the project by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).

In her 2021 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the state would provide a four-lane corridor from Thomasville to Tuscaloosa. According to Ivey, the West Alabama Corridor project will provide interstate connectivity to rural counties lacking a four-lane-to-interstate highway, ultimately creating a four-lane connection between Mobile and Tuscaloosa. The project is being paid for with Rebuild Alabama Act funds, a state gas tax increase passed in 2019 by the legislature.

Elliott has been critical of the project over it being paid for with all state funds.

"It's definitely eligible for federal funding. The problem is the type of permitting that ALDOT is using is Corps of Engineers permitting and not USDOT permitting on the design and on the project itself and in order to be eligible for federal funding IIJA or anything else it has to be done with USDOT permitting and they're not doing that," Elliott told 1819 News in a recent interview. "By doing it that way…I have concerns as to whether or not they can use eligible federal funding on the project because they're not using USDOT permitting. They're not using USDOT permitting because it's slower. Admittedly, that's slower than using Corps of Engineers permitting and this administration is hellbent on I mean they have thrown a brick on the gas pedal and just watch out, you know, 'We're doing anything and everything we can to do this while she's still in office or at least get it started.' I'm just worried that if we don't use the permitting that's necessary to get the eligible funding on this project then we will have cut our nose off to spite our face. That'll be our doing. The state's doing. ALDOT's doing."

ALDOT chief of communication and government relations Tony Harris told 1819 News recently, "The West Alabama Highway is eligible for federal funds." 

"ALDOT chose to use Rebuild Alabama Act funds because all federal formula appropriations under the current federal aid highway act (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) are fully committed to projects in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The Rebuild Alabama Act requires ALDOT to "establish a program to develop and improve transportation infrastructure to enhance economic development activities in the State of Alabama. ALDOT shall develop an assessment and prioritization plan to allocate funds for economic development road projects with priority given to projects in economically underserved areas of the state." In these ways, the Rebuild Alabama Act, which was passed with overwhelming support of the Legislature, envisions projects like the West Alabama Highway. ALDOT is using the Design-Build process for faster, more cost-effective project delivery. ALDOT is coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because they are the lead federal agency for the permitting process for projects advanced in this manner," Harris said. 

Harris said last week, "The West Alabama Highway has strong support as it will open up economic development opportunities and connect Alabamians in this under-served part of the state to jobs, medical care and other necessities."

Elliott said, "If a project of this size is going to get done, it's going to have to have some federal money in it." 

"The state can not afford $1.5 billion dollars on one project and max out the credit card. That's going to be my message to supporters of this project is this is a long-term project. It's going to take a while and multiple administrations to complete it," he added. "The only way for it to be sustainable and to actually happen is to design it and permit it and fund it using some federal money and not 100% state money because there's no way that future governors or future legislatures or the Alabama Legislature as it sits right now is going to let this Governor spend 100% of the borrowable future gas tax revenue or the amount that can be borrowed against in one spot on the project."

The dispute over the project recently resulted in over $100 million in ALDOT contracts being temporarily placed on hold.

Fourteen ALDOT contracts held up over a dispute at a Contract Review Committee meeting on September 7 about the future of the West Alabama Corridor project are still on hold nearly two weeks later.

Elliott placed a hold of up to 45 days on a $75 million ALDOT design-build contract with Brasfield & Gorrie for the West Alabama Corridor project at a recent Contract Review Committee meeting. In response to Elliott's hold on the West Alabama Corridor contract, State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) put an up to 45-day hold on the remaining 13 ALDOT contracts on the committee's agenda at the meeting because the West Alabama Corridor is "vital to my district." Legislators on the Contract Review Committee can't stop a contract from ultimately moving forward, but they can block it from proceeding for up to 45 days. The hold can be released at any time by the legislator.

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