A map released today of Alabama’s 50 most pressing road improvements highlights the critical need for accountability and transparency in the decision-making process around statewide transportation investments. The report’s estimated cost for all 50 of these projects would be half a billion dollars less than the proposed Northern Beltline around Birmingham, which is recklessly proceeding forward despite a long list of other needed projects languishing on the books.
Titled “The Top 50 Highway Projects to Support Economic Growth and Quality of Life in Alabama,” the report by the national nonprofit transportation research group The Road Information Program (TRIP) ranks the 50 statewide highway projects using criteria aimed at supporting Alabama’s economic growth and quality of life. According to the report, the combined, estimated cost for all 50 of these projects would be $4.6 billion; the $5.3 billion Northern Beltline project is notably absent from the list.
While SELC and partner Black Warrior Riverkeeper neither endorse nor oppose the projects included in the report, the list is an eye-opening illustration of how the Northern Beltline bleeds funding from critical transportation needs. These needs will continue to go unmet as long as the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) gives funding priority to the Northern Beltline and other politically motivated projects.
Although ALDOT has the flexibility to use money allocated to the Northern Beltline on other projects, the agency continues to forge ahead with the most expensive road in Alabama history to the detriment of taxpayers, water resources, and more pressing infrastructure needs. ALDOT has begun work on 1.34 miles of the 52 mile proposed highway around northern Birmingham, but has not secured funding for construction on the rest of the road.
“Even as lawmakers acknowledge that our crumbling infrastructure is failing people across Alabama, this map shows statewide repercussions will continue as long as wasteful, unnecessary projects like the Northern Beltline are given lopsided priority,” said Sarah Stokes, SELC Staff Attorney. “Working toward a sustainable solution to our infrastructure problems must involve holding ALDOT to specific accountability terms, including an objective prioritization process to rank and select projects.”
SELC has advanced project-prioritization systems for transportation work in Virginia and North Carolina that have helped steer funding to infrastructure spending that meets the greatest need with the least environmental impact. Similarly, in Alabama, SELC and Black Warrior Riverkeeper maintain that the state’s limited transportation funding should be used to address safety, maintenance, and congestion issues through cost-effective projects that create jobs and cause far fewer aquatic impacts than the Northern Beltline.
“We continue to be gravely concerned about the Northern Beltline’s negative ramifications for the region’s aquatic resources,” said Nelson Brooke from Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “The Northern Beltline is a poor investment which will continue to drain funds from priority transportation projects across Alabama.”
To view a detailed version of the map outlining the 50 projects in the report, click here.