The typical vehicle today gets 40 percent better gas mileage than the typical vehicle in 1992, which is the last time the gas tax was increased. Roads, however, cost two to three times as much now, said John Cooper, director of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), when he spoke this week to the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC).
Cooper made the case for additional infrastructure funding, stating there is very little funding that allows ALDOT to expand the current road structure, and that current funding largely goes toward replacing roads, not building new ones. With the current funding structure, most of the money being spent mainly maintains the system already in place.
One of the Birmingham Business Alliance’s (BBA) legislative priorities in 2019 is infrastructure, specifically increasing revenue and resources for future growth and expansion. The BBA supports transportation funding through a state gas tax increase or other financially responsible investments, reforms and long-term solutions.
Cooper said he felt transportation funding was inadequate.
“We have very little funding that enables us to expand the existing road system,” he said.
Cooper said the state gas tax is currently 18 cents per gallon; in order to restore purchasing power due to inflation since the last time the gas tax was raised, the gas tax would need to be increased by 14 cents per gallon. A penny increase on gas and diesel raises approximately $31 million, so a 10 cent increase would bring in a little over $300 million more year.
Cooper also said that increased funding would allow for more roads to support economic development and congestion mitigation, as well as projects of local and regional significance. Infrastructure affects economic development and a functional infrastructure helps everyone, including businesses choosing to come to Birmingham and workers attempting to get to work downtown, he said.
“The absence of interstates from downtown Birmingham will definitely impact workers,” Cooper said. “They cannot come without an efficient road system.”
When the announcement of the I-59/20 bridge closure happened, Cooper promised there would never be a day that Birmingham residents could not come to downtown Birmingham. It is a promise he is standing by.
“There might be delays,” Cooper said. “But we plan to keep that promise.”
Cooper and ALDOT regional engineer DeJarvis Leonard told the BBA’s GAC that they were pleased with the progress so far, and the only hiccup had been a concert at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which took place the day after the bridge closure.
“That added an additional 15,000 [vehicles],” Leonard said. “Other than that, it’s gone very well.”
Cooper also called the Northern Beltline – a 52-mile, six lane corridor that will eventually stretch from I-59 in northeast Jefferson County to the I-459 interchange with I-59/20 near Bessemer – the solution to a number of traffic problems the metro faces today.
“It’s very important and vital,” Cooper said. “It really needs to get built. We wouldn’t have near the number of problems with traffic we do today [if it was built].”
The BBA also supports the construction, full funding and timely completion of the Northern Beltline in order to support economic development and additional job creation in the Birmingham seven-county region and across the state.