TUSCALOOSA — Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) contracts held up by legislators in September over a dispute involving the financing and wisdom of the West Alabama Corridor project will move forward next week.
Fourteen Alabama Department of Transportation contracts worth well over $100 million have been delayed since the Contract Review Committee meeting on September 7.
State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) 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 the meeting over financing and cost concerns on the project. 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. Monday, Oct. 23rd is 46 days after the Sept. 7th meeting.
England told 1819 News after a press conference at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama on Thursday that the holds on the contracts are “really close” to ending.
“I’ve been going to those things for years and it’s kind of mundane but it just really depends on what the issues are. Let’s be honest folks like I guess me, Chris Elliott, and others you know we’re pretty active so if you invite us to the party we’ll get it going sometimes. To be honest with you, the work that the Contract Review Committee does it’s like we see contracts come and go which is a birds-eye view of how the state is spending money. I think they should be a little more exciting than they are. The fact that that kind of oversight shines a light, makes it a more transparent process so you know and everybody knows what’s going on, I think it’s a good thing,” England said.
State and local elected officials were on hand at the press conference in Tuscaloosa to advocate for the completion of a project known as the West Alabama Corridor that would four-lane Highway 43 from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.
“I’ve encouraged (ALDOT Director) John Cooper as well to look forward and don’t pay attention to what’s happening on the sideline because this is something that the Governor has made a commitment to,” State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) told 1819 News. “Time will tell the story eventually that this was the correct decision made by the Governor.”
The project has been criticized by some legislators in other parts of the state and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth for its price tag and the lack of federal funding. Elliott told 1819 News on Thursday he still hasn’t received a clear answer from ALDOT officials or the Gov. Kay Ivey administration about how much the project will cost.
“Everybody seems to agree that we need to put federal money into the project in order to make it sustainable. The Governor’s Office and ALDOT will not do it because they know it is going to slow them down. They should’ve done it from the beginning but they’re so concerned about slowing anything down, they refuse to do what is the fiscally responsible thing and it will end up causing this project problems in the long term,” Elliott said. “If everybody is saying, ‘We need federal funding.’ Then the Governor ought to stop and tell ALDOT, ‘Permit this correctly so that we can use federal funding.’ That is what should happen right now. Don’t move until you have the permitting necessary so that if and when federal money shows up, and we’ll get some, there will be some available. I don’t know how much, but I’m 100% certain that through earmarks or grant programs we can get some. She should stop, go get the (Federal Highway Administration) permitting then move forward and I’d support that.”
Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day told 1819 News at the press conference mayors along Highway 43 would look for federal funding options but didn’t want to halt ongoing construction on the project.
“We don’t want us to be the bottom priority. We’ve finally moved up to a priority (and) the project is underway,” Day said. “If they find a pot of money in Washington that they think can come to this which I don’t think is there but we’ll do what we need to do. We’ll all go together. (Tuscaloosa) Mayor (Walt) Maddox, (Mobile) Mayor (Sandy) Stimpson, all of us have said, ‘Hey, if you see something that we can advocate for and try to get. We’ll all go get it but let’s don’t stop the progress we’re making now.’ Let’s don’t put it on hold because in tomorrow’s dollars it’s going to be even more expensive. They’re worried about the cost. The cost is going to go up exponentially the more that there’s a delay.”
State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) said in a recent interview both Highway 43 and I-65 expansions need to happen but he preferred prioritizing I-65.
“The fact is we need both but if you’re going to spend money on roads I’m in favor of spending it where the traffic is. When I drive from Montgomery to home, there’s never a time hardly that I don’t come to a complete stop for 30 minutes on I-65 somewhere. We need the extra lanes on I-65 sure,” Stutts said. “When I go to Mobile, I go down through Mississippi. I go down Highway 45 and it’s a great road, four lanes all the way. That’s the quickest way. I don’t go down (Highway) 43. I go over towards Hamilton and hit U.S. 45 and go straight down through Mississippi just on the other side of the state line. Our son lives in Mobile. That’s the quickest way because it’s a good road. We need both. (Highway) 43 needs to be four laned down the West side of the state but I-65 to me has got to be a priority.”
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.