Speculation is rampant as to why Gov. Kay Ivey's Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), under the leadership of director John Cooper, is willing to spend in excess of $1 billion of federally unmatched state gas tax revenue on the so-called West Alabama Corridor project.
The project, first announced in Ivey's 2021 State of the State address, will complete a four-lane route that runs in concurrence or parallel to U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.
According to State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville), who has roots in the West Alabama portion of the Black Belt, the project can't deliver on the economic development that has been promised.
"We can't do everything," he said on Thursday's broadcast of Huntsville radio WVNN's "The Dale Jackson Show." "We don't have that kind of money. Even when matching it with federal dollars, we don't have that kind of money. And, you know, you're just looking at what I call 'The University of Alabama, Mobile Alumni Association Highway' from Mobile to Tuscaloosa, which is where I'm from, that neck of the woods — can't fathom another reason for that road because there's area there, they keep saying 'economic development, economic development.'"
"There's counties there that already have Interstates going through there, that have Interstates and another four-lane highway going through there that — you know, it doesn't make a difference, folks. You've got to look at the workforce, the education system. There's so many factors that come into it. You can't just say, 'We built them a road, so industry will follow us. It isn't 'Field of Dreams.'"
The Madison County lawmaker suggested it was a payoff to the elected officials in that area who supported Ivey's 2019 Rebuild Alabama Act, which raised Alabama's gas tax increase.
"I think it was about politics — people in that area, what it's going to take for them to vote for the gas tax," Givhan said. "That gas tax just had to happen from the powers that be. And look, we were short on that. I would have done it differently if I had been in charge. But it is what it is. When I stood in the caucus room and said if we were going to do this for I-65, it would be different, and some of these rural legislators looked at me like I was nuts. They felt like all the money was coming to Huntsville, and I said, "By golly, it's not. Look at our roads compared to other places. It's not at all coming up here.' We are woefully behind in our area, and this is where the state can get the highest return on investment – is putting roads in Madison County, Alabama."
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.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.