By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Congressman Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia announced that he was able to preserve language in the transportation bill keeping the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) as a separate program and protecting its dedicated funding stream.
Rep. Bachus said, “We have fought for many years to put all of the pieces in place for the completion of the Northern Beltline. The State of Alabama has recently pledged to expedite it. It is essential to complete this important economic development project as the people of Alabama have been promised.”
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted early this morning to accept Rep. Bachus’s recommendation to keep ADHS as a separate program with its own dedicated funding stream. The Senate version of the bill may merge the ADHS with other programs potentially threatening the funding for the ADHS and the Northern Beltway.
The full House will still have to vote on the Transportation bill and then any differences between the House and the Senate versions will have to be reconciled in a conference committee.
Rep. Bachus’s press release said that “Congressman Bachus has been a longtime proponent of the Northern Beltline to promote economic development and highway safety in Central Alabama. He worked to originally include the Northern Beltline project in the Appalachian Development Highway System.”
Rep. Bachus is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee but is on leave due to his duties as Chairman of the Financial Services Committee.
The 51 mile long Northern Beltline will stretch from I-59 near the Deerfoot Parkway to I-59/I-20 near Bessemer and will intersect with I-65 and the future I-22. The project is expected to cost $3.4 billion and was recently listed as one of the top five legislative priorities of the recently formed Birmingham Business Alliance. The federal government is expected to provide 80% of the funding and the Alabama Department of Transportation will pay the matching funds. Governor Bentley has recently said that the state is exploring making the new interstate (to be named I-959) a toll road. Construction on the first segment of the new interstate could begin as early as next year and may take as long as 25 years.
Tom Howard, the general manager of U.S. Steel’s real estate division told the Birmingham News: “We think it (the Northern Beltline) is one of the largest economic development projects ever for the region.” Thousands of acres of undeveloped land could possibly be opened up for development by construction of the beltline. U.S. Steel is the largest landowner in Jefferson County and along the proposed route.
The first segment to be constructed is expected to be 3 miles connecting AL 75 and AL 79 north of Pinson. ALDOT has already purchased 90% of the land needed for the segment which is estimated to cost $80 million.
Some critics of the project in the local environmentalist community have questioned the selection of the route, the potential environmental impact, and the necessity of the project.
The project could be delayed if there is a long debate in the Congress over the new six-year transportation bill.
Congressman Spencer Bachus represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District which includes all or parts of Jefferson, Blount, Shelby, Chilton, and Bibb Counties. Rep. Bachus faces a March 13th primary challenge from Teaparty Activist Al Mickle, Blount County Probate Judge David Standridge, and Alabama State Senator Scott Beason. The winner of the Republican Primary will face Democratic Party opposition in the November 6th election from either USAF Colonel Penny Huggins Bailey or Birmingham Attorney William “Bill” Barnes. Terry Reagin from Leeds is collecting signatures to be on the ballot in November as an independent.