Roads and bridges carry much more than just families in cars and cargo in trucks; they are the pathways for the economic engines that support job and wage growth. Unfortunately, Alabama bridges receive a grade of C- from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and our roads earn a dismal D+. These embarrassing grades mean that 20% of Alabama’s bridges are in urgent need of improvement and our roads rate as “poor & at risk.”
Each Alabama driver pays over $320 per year in extra vehicle operating costs due to deficient roads, and the average household loses $3,400 per year in economic opportunities due to our deteriorating transportation infrastructure, a number expected to grow to more than $5,000 annually by 2025.
Corporate executives rank highway accessibility as the number two factor in site selection. Manufacturing plants, industrial facilities, and large commercial operations simply won’t locate in areas that have poor roads and bridges because it puts their businesses at risk.
Almost one million full-time jobs in Alabama’s key industries, such as tourism, trucking, retail sales, agriculture, and manufacturing, are completely dependent on the transportation network. For every dollar invested in roads and bridges, we see a return on investment of $5.20 in reduced maintenance costs, fewer delays, lower fuel consumption, improved safety, and reduced emissions. When we add the economic benefit of more jobs, increased wages, and reduced road replacement costs in the future, that benefit jumps to as high as $14 returned for each dollar spent.
Of course, deficient roads and bridges affect more than just the economy. Approximately one-third of serious traffic accidents in Alabama are caused by defective roadway conditions. With Alabama’s poor transportation system, our traffic fatality rate is significantly higher than the national average.
Fortunately, there already is a plan to remedy this shameful picture. The Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure has long advocated for addressing this crisis by identifying financially responsible investments, reforms, and long-term solutions. Their common sense approach to facing the truth and acting on the facts provides a blueprint to get Alabama out of the potholes we’ve dug for ourselves. The Alliance was founded by the Business Council of Alabama, Chambers of Commerce across the state, businesses, industry associations, and professional groups – all of whom understand that quality roads and bridges are critical to improving Alabama’s economy.
This means we have to face the truth about Alabama’s infrastructure funding, but a vast majority of Alabamians, when educated about the facts, agree that the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure/BCA plan will pay dividends to the entire state. This plan echoes the findings of a 2015 PARCA study that a 12 cent per gallon increase is the most practical route to fixing our infrastructure issues. Alabama currently has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country, but you get what you pay for so we also have some of the worst roads.
A recent poll shows that 75% of Alabamians incorrectly believe they pay more in fuel taxes per year as compared to the mid-1990s. Only 10% of those polled realized the truth: due to a flat per gallon tax last adjusted in 1992, coupled with improved fuel efficiency, we pay an average of $40 LESS per vehicle annually in fuel taxes than we did 20 years ago! If the 1992 fuel tax had been tied to inflation, we would be paying 31 cents more per gallon today, and without the benefit of improved fuel efficiency, that number would jump to 35 cents more per gallon.
I have no doubt the failed leadership currently in Montgomery will fall back on their old, tired scare tactics, but the truth is, under the plan put forth by the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure, Alabamians will pay less than they would have if we held to 1992 levels.
Of course, any discussion about infrastructure funding must be borne of absolute need and complete transparency. When I’m governor, every dollar invested in road and bridge improvements will be posted online. We must also present our infrastructure plan identifying specific projects in advance of all legislative sessions in which appropriations will be made so the citizens know where and how their money is being spent. Not only must we address critical infrastructure needs in urban areas, we must also cut the red tape impacting road and bridge projects in rural parts of Alabama and allow our citizens to review our decisions so they can hold us accountable.
Speaking of road and bridge fund, as Governor, I will stop the unconstitutional transfer of funds that has been taking place since FY 2011. Under the Bentley-Ivey Administrations, $305 million has been diverted from our infrastructure to fund the unified judicial branch. Before moving forward with the Alliance for Alabama Infrastructure Plan, I will reverse this budgeting trick.
The Alliance for Alabama Infrastructure plan will help us meet our short-term needs, but I believe it is irresponsible to fund highway projects with a revenue source that will be evaporating in the years ahead as vehicles become less dependent on gasoline and other fossil fuels. As a result, we must research ways to maintain revenues as the use of hybrid and electric vehicles expands.
It’s clear that it’s going to take a new governor to finally do something about our crumbling roads and bridges. If we are going to march strongly forward through this 21st century economy, we must leverage every asset to bring more jobs and make our roadways safer. The foundation for improving Alabama is a transportation system that is a source of pride instead of shame, and under my administration we will take this critical step forward.