In Nov. 2010, Alabama voters overwhelmingly rejected a roads program that would spend $1 billion in increments of $100 million a year for 10 years on building roads and bridges. Now, less than two years later, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed spending double that amount on another roads and bridges program.
Bentley revealed his idea during a speech last week to the Birmingham Kiwanis Club. At that speech, Bentley also proposed making the $4.7 billion Northern Beltline project — currently on hold while an environmental evaluation of the 52-mile long route is completed — a toll road.
According to the Birmingham Business Journal, Bentley told the Kiwanis Club that he did not want the Beltline to “take 27 years, so we’re going to look at things like tolling the road.”
The Northern Beltline would serve as a western bypass for Birmingham and Interstate 20/59 (which is not tolled), in the same way that Interstate 459 (also free to use) serves as an eastern
bypass. The Northern Beltline would finish the loop I-459 starts in the east and offer service to municipalities such as Hueytown, Sylvan Springs, Graysville, Gardendale, Pinson and Clay.
Critics of the Northern Beltline, including the non-profit environmental group Black Warrior Riverkeeper, say the project would cost $90 million a mile, reduce traffic congestion by only one to three percent in some areas and have significant (and unrealized) negative effects on the environment. Proponents argue that the road would create 70,000 jobs and deliver a $7 billion economic impact.
While the Beltline would be paid for mostly with federal dollars, the $1 billion roads and bridges project that voters defeated in 2010 was to be paid for by taking money from the state’s oil and gas royalties trust. That proposal was defeated 57 percent to 43 percent.
Bentley did not speculate as to how $2 billion in bonds would be paid back, the BBJ said.
The governor also suggested unifying the state’s education and general fund budgets, a move which critics have said would result in the state’s education budget being reduced to fill a projected shortfalls in the general fund budget.