By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday the JobKeeper Alliance, the Coalition for Regional Transportation, and the Birmingham Business Alliance held a joint press conference at the Harbert Center in Birmingham.
The Chairman of the Coalition for Regional Transportation, Mike Thompson said, “We need the Beltline. We need the huge economic impact it will bring to our area. Mostly we need jobs for the people in our communities and we need them now. Thompson said that the project will generate $7 billion in economic impact and 70,000 high paying jobs for the Birmingham region and will generate another 20,000 jobs and $2 billion a year in economic impact once the 51 mile new roadway is complete.
JobKeeper Executive Director Patrick Cagle said that the project is being unnecessarily held up by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and their client, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. Director Cagle said that the SELC and Black Warrior Riverkeeper will not be satisfied by altering the route of the needed new roadway. Cagle said that SELC has asked for the court to award them both attorney fees and expenses. “If they block the Beltline they get paid,” Cagle said, “The SELC has actively opposed 13 road projects in 5 states.” Cagle said that the group was interested only in blocking growth not in finding a better route for the roadway.
The President and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, Brian Hilson said, “The Northern Beltline has been the #1 priority of the Birmingham Business Alliance for years because of the jobs and economic development opportunities it will create for our region.” President Hilson said that Birmingham is just one of a few major metropolitan areas in the country without a complete interstate system. Hilson said that an economist that he consulted has said that Atlanta’s much more developed transportation system is one of the important reasons for that city’s explosive growth in the last 25 years.
The Executive Director of the Coalition for Regional Transportation, Renee Carter told. ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that they had anticipated opposition to the project and she predicted that the U.S Army Corps of Engineers would ultimately rule in favor of the project. In her written statement Director Carter said, “The Northern Beltline has a broad and diverse coalition of supporters , yet a small group of anti-growth proponents continues to try to deny us the critically needed jobs it will bring.”
JobKeeper Director Cagle said, “Our message to the SELC and Black Warrior Riverkeeper is simple. Drop your lawsuit and stop blocking the jobs and economic growth our region needs.”
Chairman Thompson said that they had hoped to begin construction on the first phase of the important roadway in November; but the delays have postponed the project until at least the Spring of 2013. Thompson said that Mayor William Bell and the Birmingham City Council were in favor of the project. Thompson said that Birmingham, Brookside, Gardendale, Mountain Brook, and Pinson were just some of the 39 local governments which had passed resolutions supporting the Northern Beltline. Thompson said that 25% of the labor force in Walker County work in Jefferson County. Additionally 47% of the St. Clair County labor force and 43% of the Cullman County labor force work in Jefferson County and that this new interstate is essential to helping the people in the region to move around.
President Hilson said that he was not aware of any local government body that was opposing the project.
Chairman Thompson said that the goal is to build the eastern half of the Northern Beltway first and then build the western half second. Thompson said that over 1,000 attended Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) public hearings in Gardendale and Bessemer to voice their support for the new roadway. Mike Thompson became the President of Thompson Tractor Company in 1986: a company founded by his father, Hall Thompson in 1957.